Start-ups at the heart of robotic inventions

The robotic industry is relying more than ever on the start-up community. That's because it's a rich source of budding entrepreneurs making huge advancements in robotics innovation. These fledgling business owners might still be in university; veterans of a major corporation that have left their jobs; or simply visionaries who like to fly solo.

Anyone interested in robotics is aware of the value of start-ups – and the importance of helping them get their ideas to market. Those players include Fortune 500 companies, healthcare institutions, banks and government agencies – all keen to move robotic inventions to the next level. Furthermore, incubators and accelerators supporting new entrepreneurs are growing at a very rapid pace. And start-up competitions are proliferating, as are new funding programs from venture capital firms and financial institutions.

Ontario and the Toronto-Waterloo Technology Corridor

Most of Ontario's start-up activity is taking place in the Toronto/Waterloo corridor and the Ottawa region. Of this activity, robotics represents one of six key areas that are leading technology disruption. The others are artificial intelligence, sensor development, supercomputing, bioscience and 3D printing.

There are many factors fuelling the province's success - from generous R&D tax credits to low corporate tax rates. Collaboration between academia, industry, government and even between sectors has also been key to building a dynamic community.

Post-secondary institutions are the lynchpin of Ontario's innovation ecosystem

Colleges and universities are essential players in fostering an innovation ecosystem. Students and faculty at the University of Waterloo's engineering department, for example, are working with the healthcare community to bring robotic assistive tools for physiotherapy applications to market. There are countless other projects getting ready to go to market in areas such as logistics and autonomous vehicles.

Sheridan College's ABB Robotics Centre in Brampton is not only a production and teaching platform; it's also open to entrepreneurs who want to test potential advanced robotics technologies at significantly less cost.

Global industry leaders are also in the game. For example, Samsung, Intel and Hitachi are funding university-level research into nano-scale robotic development that is used in areas such as microprocessor production, drug discovery and surgeries.

An image showing Brandon Chen from the University of Toronto Nanofabrication Centre presenting a nano robot used inside of an electron microscope.
Brandon Chen from the University of Toronto Nanofabrication Centre presents a nanorobot used inside of an electron microscope

Great ideas make for great partnerships

MDA Corporation, a Brampton, Ontario company specializing in communications, surveillance and advanced technology development is always searching for innovative partnerships. "MDA is always on the lookout for new ideas," explains Craig Thornton, vice president and general manager for MDA's Robotics and Automation division. "We're continuously looking for technologies that complement our own, so we partner with universities to bootstrap some of their capabilities."

Festo Canada, a worldwide leading supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technologies based in Mississauga, Ontario, is another. Minja Zahirovic, engineering manager, says Festo serves as an incubator by bringing in start-ups to work with engineering partners and universities.

The region is also home to a rapidly growing network of incubators and accelerators, such as the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and Communitech in Waterloo, whose job is to help start-ups bridge the gap between their ideas and commercialization.

Companies like Clearpath Robotics in Waterloo, developers of unmanned vehicles robots for research and logistics applications, got a leg up in the market through the University of Waterloo's Accelerator Centre at the Johnston Research + Technology Park. The Park is a partnership between the university, government agencies and incubators.

"Synaptive Medical has found success for its ground-breaking robotic innovation to neurosurgery through its strong links with the university system and MDA,” says Cameron Piron, co-founder and president.

If we didn't have the access we have to talent and new technologies, we wouldn't be where we are today.

- Cameron Piron, co-founder and president.

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