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JLABS Ignites Canada’s Innovation Economy: Q&A With Sanjeev Dutta


The much-anticipated launch of JLABS @ Toronto on May 11 marks Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s first JLABS site outside of the United States. The new center will be located within Toronto’s bustling MaRS Discovery District, one of the world's largest urban innovation hubs, and will house emerging entrepreneurs across a range of healthcare specialties.

To learn more about the immense potential of the Canadian innovation ecosystem, we sat down with former Toronto resident and Johnson & Johnson executive Sanjeev Dutta, M.D., Vice President, Medical Devices at Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Sanjeev, can you tell us a bit about Toronto’s scientific scene? It’s a city that may not come to mind as an innovation hub, at least not for Americans.

Yes, I think a lot of people fail to recognize just how robust of an ecosystem around innovation there is in Canada—and particularly in Toronto, which is a massive city with a strong culture of discovery, driven in large part by the University of Toronto and several key hospitals, all within a few blocks of one another. You can just feel the energy, creativity and intelligence there.

So what’s missing? And where does JLABS @ Toronto fit into the existing ecosystem?

What’s missing in Toronto is support for a culture of entrepreneurship, which in general isn’t pervasive in Canada. There are so many great ideas there. But what’s lacking is a funding and development infrastructure—a path to commercialization. If you go into the Silicon Valley with a cool idea, you’ll encounter no shortage of investors who can help push that idea forward. But Canada doesn’t have that infrastructure and many would-be entrepreneurs struggle with how to transform their idea into a real product.

The Canadian government plays a much larger role in its country’s healthcare industry than U.S. government. How does this shape innovation and impact potential products to emerge from JLABS?

The government at the local, regional and federal level have all been very supportive of JLABS @ Toronto and its potential to bring forth new breakthroughs for patients. The JLABS no-strings-attached model is especially conducive to the Canadian sensibility; with a government-influenced system, there’s much more scrutiny over what types of transactions and agreements the government enters into. JLABS isn’t a transactional model, and that makes it easy for Canadians to embrace.

How will entrepreneurs who are part of the JLABS @ Toronto community benefit from having access to Johnson & Johnson’s global resources?

Because Canada is a single-payer system, cost and quality have always been top of mind for healthcare companies in Canada. The market there demands it. However, Canadian entrepreneurs really need to understand how to sell globally. It’s a new journey for them, and one that Johnson & Johnson knows very well. The Johnson & Johnson connection will also jumpstart the funding environment for these entrepreneurs; I predict that money is going to be attracted to the efforts underway at JLABS @ Toronto in ways that we haven’t seen in the past. And finally, we bring a level of expertise from the R&D side to help these innovators develop really useful products that will impact doctors, patients and hospitals.

Sanjeev, you left Canada many years ago to pursue entrepreneurial healthcare endeavors in the U.S. Do you think that people like you might choose to remain in Canada once there is a better infrastructure to support innovation?

I have absolutely no doubt that more entrepreneurs will remain in Toronto and in Canada. The country is going to undergo a major transformation to become an innovation industry, and as a result we are going to see more and more innovative healthcare products coming out of Canada. It’s exciting that JLABS is sparking this growth. We expect to see great things from the JLABS @ Toronto community.

The 40,000-square foot JLABS @ Toronto facility includes cutting-edge, modular and scalable lab space, state-of-the-art equipment, with access to scientific, industry and capital funding experts. The space also features JLABS' device and digital prototype lab, providing entrepreneurs with access to highly specialized tools and skills building programs to design and develop smart health technologies.