Since returning from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s trade mission to China last fall, during which Ontario secured close to $1 billion in new investments to create 1,800 new jobs, we at MaRS have been hard at work strengthening the foundation of the relationships we built on our visit. In practical terms, this includes both internal- and external-facing work to continue to learn about opportunities in China and how to best prepare to meet them. It also involves working very closely with companies that are currently establishing their physical and virtual presences in China.
This week has been a very China-themed one in Toronto and here at MaRS, beginning Monday with the Fourth Annual Ontario-China R&D and Commercialization Collaboration Forum at the Fairmont Royal York, which I was fortunate enough to attend. During the event, which drew hundreds of participants from throughout China, our CEO, Ilse Treurnicht, gave an excellent presentation on what we do at MaRS as catalysts of innovation and how our work very resonantly fits not only with where China has journeyed to today, but also with where it is working very hard to land tomorrow.
At the same event, Song Yang, deputy director of the Shanghai Technology Innovation Center (STIC) and our host on our visit to her very fine city, gave a speech in which she highlighted the burgeoning relationship between STIC and MaRS.
During the afternoon, MaRS staff participated in business-to-business networking sessions while, at the same time, the Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery event was kicking off just down the road at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The mood there was equally vibrant, with a large number of business visitors from China attending the first day. You can get a recap of the event at the #OCEDiscovery hashtag on Twitter.
Our China collaboration discussions continued all day on Tuesday at MaRS, with us MaRSians finding ourselves in the wonderful position of hosting a STIC delegation for its second visit. The day was spent deep-diving into areas of potential collaboration, rolling up our sleeves to find ways for MaRS and STIC companies, advisors and stakeholders to work together to build something powerful and unique in the China-Canada collaborative space. To start, we agreed to set up a joint soft-landing program in which MaRS and STIC would each send startups to the other’s country with the goal of helping these young companies enter new markets. More details to come in the fall.
When forging new ground together, days like this one are as much about learning, understanding and visioning as they are about the nuts and bolts of how to actually make relationships work between places such as Shanghai and Toronto. One of the themes that re-emerged as the day progressed was that, while Shanghai and Toronto are obviously different in many ways, the cities are also very similar. As our friend Song Yang pointed out, these similarities are not only in character, but also in physical appearance.
On Tuesday, the China Canada Angels Alliance (CCAA) also spent the afternoon with us at MaRS, attending a startup pitch session that I had curated to meet their interests and investment thesis. The CCAA members had the opportunity to see startups from several different clusters, all of which consider China a critically important part of their growth strategies. Also of note, that morning the CCAA announced a brand-new opportunity for Ontario startups seeking a presence in the China market: the China Angels Mentorship Program.
While this was admittedly a busy start to the week, every week finds MaRS full of international visitors who are looking to collaborate with one of the world’s leading innovation centres. Together we work to find points of intersection that can accelerate plans for growth and create even greater success for the startups and businesses that fuel our individual and collective innovation economies.
Aron was the Innovation Lead for the LegalX cluster and Senior Advisor for education technology at MaRS.