The Ontario government is investing $7.5 million into building the Innovation Arena at the University of Waterloo’s campus.
The arena is part of Ontario’s life sciences strategy announced last year to strengthen the province’s health-tech sector. It will be equipped with a business centre and a health-tech incubator, where the next generation can come to hit the ground running.
“If we don’t make sure that we create that environment and the conditions, as I said earlier, for companies to come, man, they’ll be gone in 10 seconds,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in Thursday’s announcement. “But we’ve created that environment and they’re coming by the droves.”
Ford made this announcement alongside other politicians and UW officials in front of an underutilized warehouse, soon to be the 90,000-square-foot Innovation Arena at the corner of Victoria and Joseph Streets. The federal government provided $10 million to the project in 2021.
The arena will house Velocity, the entrepreneurship program of UW. Beyond that, it will create 730 jobs and aim to commercialize 150 new technologies.
A $15 million budget will additionally be allotted to aid in the start-up of 135 businesses.
“Velocity began with a very simple idea: gather entrepreneurial students in a dorm residence, a community where being unconventional was celebrated,” said Adrien Côté, executive director of Velocity at Thursday’s announcement.
Côté said Velocity receives more than 400 applications for start-ups and the arena will be the launchpad for students to begin their projects locally and grow globally.
He said the Innovation Arena could assist in closing Canada’s productivity gap by improving the healthcare system with “adoptable technology that can reduce cost and burnout.”
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the Innovation Arena will be supporting the next generation.
“This long-term investment in our community’s future, providing a transformational opportunity for Kitchener and our region to become a global leader in medical technology and life sciences. Further putting the province and our country on the global map,” Vrbanovic said.
Other successful ventures such as Kitchener’s investments in Communitech and the School of Pharmacy were mentioned. Vrbanovic said the arena will follow in their footsteps.
Vrbanovic recalled a conversation he had with Ford when approaching him about this project.
“You said to me at the end of that conversation, you will get it done. And like the person of your word that you are, you delivered,” he said.
Vrbanovic gifted Ford a Kitchener Rangers jersey with the premier’s name stitched on the back with the number 26, for being the 26th premier of Ontario.
Ford also announced road and highway initiatives, such as the planned four-lane Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph, “to keep people and goods moving,” he said.
This is a development he acknowledged has been long-promised, first announced in 2007, but said progress is now underway.