SURREY â€” Encircled by Simon Fraser University, Surrey Memorial Hospital, Jim Pattison Outpatient Centre and Fraser Health Authority headquarters is one square mile in City Centre that is transforming the face of health care technology in Canada.
The City of Surrey has brought together key figures in these industries with the Innovation Boulevard Initiative.
With the unveiling of the LARK Group’s City Centre 1 on May 21, the unofficial head office of Innovation Boulevard opened its doors.
The building’s second floor will hold Health Tech Connex, which is being referred to as the "New York Stock Exchange" for health technology innovation.
Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, co-chair of the mayor’s health tech working group and head of Health Sciences and Innovation at Surrey Memorial Hospital, believes Health Tech Connex is vital for everyone involved in building and using health technology.
"It allows innovators, clinicians and businesses to come together in close proximity to hospitals. If you want to advance technology products into health care benefits, this is arguably the most critical factor for success," D’Arcy said.
Donna Jones, Surrey’s manager of economic development, said Health Tech Connex allows health technology companies to consult with clinicians to develop their prototypes and services so they are able to tailor them prior to entering the market.
Innovation Boulevard is a cluster of more than 180 universities, health-tech companies, doctors and health care centres coming together to improve patient care and grow the health technology sector while modernizing the tools and services used for patients.
The project also fits one of the sectors the city has targeted in the economic diversification program.
Health tech clusters are something that D’Arcy knows well. He was instrumental in putting one together in Halifax but says that Innovation Boulevard is unique because of the role the city plays as a connector.
"The founding involvement from the City of Surrey, Fraser Health and partnership across a wide array of stakeholders, like developers, is what makes it unique," D’Arcy said.
"The country has programs at the federal and provincial levels, but I always say that rubber hits the road at the municipal level. If we really want to see new jobs and new improvements in the community, we really need to have the leadership of the municipal government as well."
One job that Jones does right now is trying to make the Innovation Boulevard network even larger by attracting more partners.
"I don’t have to be worried about boundaries between governments or universities or industry associations who all can feel competitive at times. I don’t even consider it. I just go to who makes sense and who I think could benefit themselves and benefit the effort and it’s all working out beautifully," Jones said.
She also agrees with D’Arcy that her role is unordinary compared to other health technology clusters, but thinks it only benefits the network.
"I wouldn’t say cities aren’t involved, but the fact that we’re driving it – like we are the backbone – and we’re literally
recruiting and having meetings … It’s pretty unusual," she added.
IDEAS COMING TO LIFE
Even though Innovation Boulevard has only been in place for a little more than a year, the people involved have already been reaching some of their goals.
Innovation Boulevard has a set focus in three specific areas of health technology.
One is medical technology, which would include things like portable brain scanners to detect any problems with brain functionality.
Another is independent living technology, such as sensors in bed and floors so when a patient is living at home, a sensor could detect if the patient has fallen.
The last area of focus is digital health technology, like applications on smartphones and tablets that would monitor or detect any health issues.
Some of these ideas have already come to life. On Friday (June 6), Retirement Concepts opened the doors to their Centre for Healthy Aging.
This centre was created as a result of researchers at SFU and the British (BCIT) coming together with Retirement Concepts to build an environment that would allow seniors to live safer and healthier.
Jones knows first hand the project is much more than what is happening in the city and that the reach of Innovation Boulevard is tremendous.
"We’re the centre of energy being geographic location, but the tentacles reach way out, throughout the region, all the way to Israel," Jones said.
In December, Jones was part of a team that also included Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, D’Arcy and Conquer Mobile CEO Angela Robert on a trip to Israel to build links with global leaders in brain research and technology as well as health technology innovation.
They landed partnerships with Israel Brain Technologies and Israel Centre for Medical Stimulation, two frontrunners in brain technology.
Robert, a former project manager at Electronic Arts, likes how Innovation Boulevard includes a wide range of members.
"I find the leadership and the group here to be very inclusive around the region. They want everybody to work together and use resources and get value. We want to make sure that we’re finding ways for people to get value out of Innovation Boulevard," she said.
"The health industry is pulling a company like us into the mix because they need our technology to move forward."
Prior to entering health technology, the team at Conquer Mobile worked with companies like McDonald’s, 1-800-GOTJUNK and Telus helping to create mobile applications.
Conquer has been looking closer at the health sector within the last six months and have already completed a doctorpatient consult app for GenomeDx Life Sciences.
They are also about to launch their own app called PeriopSim, which teaches nurses how to use surgical tools.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
"We’re working on putting together a number of pilots in this region as well as in the U.S. Those pilots will be happening over the next couple months. We’re going to have our finished product with a couple of surgeries and a general instrument trainer this summer," Robert said.
Robert is working with Aaron Hilton, Conquer’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and the team at Conquer on virtual reality technology for surgeons.
The concept is similar to pilots using a flight simulator prior to flying, only for a surgeon.
In December, Conquer Mobile became the first client of Health Tech Connex. The Vancouver-based company will be moving to the office space in the building some time this summer.