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TO Health! builds online health sciences hub in Toronto

Vice-President Research and Innovation Vivek Goel is co-chair of TO Health! (Photo by Johnny Guatto)

U of T’s VP research and innovation, Vivek Goel, announced as co-chair of the organization

Boosting Toronto’s reputation as a leader in health sciences means bringing the industry online. 

That’s according to TO Health!, an industry-led organization that looks to strengthen the city’s health sciences “cluster.”

Clusters are geographical regions where certain sectors (like technology, culture or finance) are thriving thanks to an interconnected web of private and public sector groups. 

Read more about clusters here 

TO Health! is hoping its online forum, called Toronto Health Hub, can connect and strengthen ties between businesses, government, academics and research institutes. It’s a one-stop-shop for the latest news, events and hot-topics in the industry. 

“This is a way for us to really understand where the news is coming from in the Toronto region,” says TO Health! director and U of T alumna Ella Korets-Smith.

The University of Toronto's Vivek Goel, vice-president, research and innovation, has been appointed co-chair of the TO Health! initiative. 

U of T News spoke with Goel about his new appointment and the value of successful clusters.   

What’s the Toronto Health Hub all about? 

Toronto Health Hub is a platform built off of a technology developed by a local company, Pressly.com .

One of our biggest challenges is that we have so many organizations and entities that it’s really hard to keep up with what’s going on. 

The idea of the Hub is to create a virtual space that will connect all these different groups – the public and private sector, academia, governments. Listed there will be things like events that are coming up, new reports, opportunities for financing. It’s really meant to be a place where any user can go to find out what’s happening in the region. Through that we will be able to do a better job of capturing the activity and better presenting to the outside world the range of activities that are happening in the region. 

Because we are a much larger community with literally thousands of people, you have to have some tools to make those personal connections. 

It’s like the Facebook for the health science professionals in the region…

Pressly.com is a social platform so it has those connection features to it. It allows for sharing of reports and so on. I think the platform enables for a lot more connectivity than Facebook alone would have allowed for. It is definitely around building a social community using tools while enabling a physical cluster. 

It seems like a great way for students and grads to connect with people in the health sciences industry as well… 

Absolutely. And in fact, a lot of what students and new graduates need is to know where the events are. The idea is for all these groups that are running different activities to have one place to market them and raise awareness on what’s happening. 

Why is it important for TO Health! to have academic representation in its leadership?

TO Health! is a group that got pulled together primarily by industry but with engagement with universities and research hospitals in the region. Former U of T president David Naylor was one of the original co-chairs. 

What this organization is really about is taking all the wonderful things that are happening in many different parts of the city whether it’s in hospital research institutes, university or in industry settings or in government. 

It’s not anything one sector – whether it’s the academic side or the industry side or the government – can do on its own. So it is important in terms of the leadership, the co-chairs are really coming from the private sector and the public sector. 

What’s the value in thinking of the health sciences industry in Toronto as a “cluster”?

The research is pretty clear that globally, the most intense innovation and development work is happening in geographic regions where there are strong clusters that really bring together a number of different elements.

First and foremost is talent – you have the people that have whatever the required skills are for a particular area. In the health sciences area, we have a significant amount of talent. We graduate about 10,000 students in health sciences areas alone in all universities and colleges in the Toronto region every year. We are also attracting talent globally to the very diverse city we have.

Second, you need to have a concentration of industry that can build the ecosystem. We need big players – we have the head offices of major companies and we have small companies – medical device and biotech companies – and we have different types of startups. 

The final piece is having access to capital to help you grow your technology and businesses that will be able to develop and apply the technology to our community and take it globally. 

Clusters are really important because they bring these and many other elements together in a defined area and you have that interaction between people. The more we are doing things virtually, the more you have the need for some places that have that connectivity. That’s why you see this pattern globally of moving to these intense clusters in different area.