Ryerson Venture Zone open for business (virtually) in Brampton
The RVZ is an incubator that will grow technology startups and serve as a developer of entrepreneurial talent for emerging cities of the future like Brampton.
“We think there is an opportunity to grow and build the entrepreneurial community there [and] a lot of what Brampton is trying to do fits well with our experience with the zones and as a university,” said John MacRitchie, Ryerson’s assistant vice-president, zone learning and strategic initiatives.
A young and diverse city
Brampton was chosen as the first official off-campus location for a Ryerson zone for many reasons. “Brampton has characteristics that resonate well with Ryerson,” said MacRitchie. “They are young, they want to make a difference, they want to innovate, they want to see that impact in their city and beyond. The city also values its diversity and realizes the opportunities that diversity can support.”
The RVZ also supports the strengthening of Brampton’s downtown core, which now includes the Brampton Innovation District, external link and is also home to another Ryerson-led initiative, the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst.
“There was a lot of interest from the community to build and strengthen what Brampton is able to do to support its own entrepreneurs and companies,” said MacRitchie. Given Ryerson’s successes in the Zone Learning network, this partnership was a natural fit.
Experience and access
Ryerson’s zone network covers many industries like clean energy, design and science.
“We’ve built up a lot of experience in launching these types of initiatives,” MacRitchie said. “Because we have this breadth of experience in all of these different sectors, not only can we leverage our knowledge here but focus on the hyperlocal industries that is specific to Brampton which is the vision for RVZ.”
For members of the RVZ, being part of the zone network offers access to opportunities that independent incubators and accelerator programs don’t necessarily provide. This includes access to researchers and talent from the university, support at all stages of development, and perhaps most importantly, an open and inclusive approach to building ideas.
To see all of this through in Brampton, MacRitchie tapped Usha Srinivasan as the new director of the RVZ.
Adding value back to the community
“It is like a dream come true,” said Srinivasan, who, previous to joining the RVZ ran her own startup and was the VP of Venture & Talent Programs at MaRS. As someone who previously immigrated to Canada, she relates to the many new Canadians that reside in Brampton.
“I wanted to be very thoughtful about what we create in Brampton,” she said. “Our focus is hyper local and I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the industries that are prominent [there].” This includes industries like advanced manufacturing, food processing and services and logistics and transportation.
“My vision for [RVZ] was to pick industry sectors that add value back to the city,” said Srinivasan.
In that vein, the RVZ has chosen to focus on community health and wellness for the next year. This sector has been identified as one of those emerging in Brampton and the RVZ is supporting its growth by kicking off with a four-week intensive industry challenge. The startups however can come anywhere as long as they are passionate about solving this problem and have the desire to locate in Brampton to grow their business. “If it’s valuable in Brampton, it will eventually be important globally,” Srinivasan said.
Talent development will also be a major focus for the RVZ. The average age of a Brampton resident is 37 and Srinivasan sees this as an opportunity to offer a two-pronged approach for the RVZ to support this young community.
“It’s not just about supporting individuals to start a business but also to support talented individuals to upskill and be able to pivot in their careers,” she said.
RVZ is collaborating with the Chang School of Continuing Education on programming that ensures ongoing learning and skills development for members of the community. This includes training for anyone who may have lost their job or has changed careers during COVID-19.
There could be a bright future for Ryerson and this model of incubator. Says Srinivasan, “if we prove this model in Brampton, perhaps there is an opportunity to look at other emerging cities across Canada where we can support talent and startup creation in different ways.”
For more information visit the RVZ website.