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Located at the commercial centre of Canada, Ryerson University’s 10-incubator network provides Toronto’s ecosystem with an accessible first step for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, as well as support for the growth of their ventures.

At any time of year, you’ll find more than 300 startups on campus, and each incubator, or “zone”, provides a suite of support for the entrepreneur – coaching, a community of thousands of entrepreneurs and industry leaders, access to customers and access to funding.

Students from any discipline can apply their degree coursework or their personal interest to real-world startups, causes, companies, projects or ventures. It’s not uncommon to find a nursing student with a fashion startup, or a psychology major building a practice. Zones are also open to the external community; about half of the entrepreneurs in the incubators are from outside Ryerson.

The experience of building a real venture builds entrepreneurial mindsets and valuable power skills needed for innovation in the 21st century. In just over 10 years, more than 4,400 new jobs have been created and more than $1 billion has been raised. Standouts from their network of more than 4,7 0 alumni startups include Mejuri, Inkbox, AccessNow, 500px, Medstack, Zensurance, The Gist, Knix, Ulula, and Ownr.

In 2021, the university launched an academic Minor in Innovation and Zone Learning. This allows students to take courses that can help them identify market opportunities, create innovative solutions and launch new startups while earning credit toward their degrees.

Incubators integrated with industry and the community
The university’s unique model spans several sectors, providing students, entrepreneurs and industry professionals with access to world-leading entrepreneurial programming, state-of-the-art workspaces and one of the largest communities of innovators in the country. This widely appealing approach has seen the zones provide support to more than 6,000 innovators.

Each incubator focuses on advancing a sector. Partners have access to top talent, as well as the opportunity to bring industry challenges forward to the community where students, researchers and entrepreneurs can respond with ideas and solutions. Entrepreneurs are enabled and encouraged to pass through multiple zones to pull on relevant resources at different stages of their development process.

• Biomedical Zone
Early-stage health technology solutions in a world-class hospital.

• Clean Energy Zone
Clean, sustainable energy innovations from electric vehicles to net-zero city building.

• Design Fabrication Zone
Commercial startups and experimental projects using spatial ideas, design learning and 3D production.

• The DMZ
The world’s top university-based incubator helps tech startups succeed. (Also featured in this publication on page XX.)

• Fashion Zone
Innovative new products at the intersection of fashion, design and technology.

• Innovation Boost Zone
Early-stage startups solving real customer problems with user-centric technology

• Legal Innovation Zone
Solutions and technologies to improve legal services and the justice system.

• Science Discovery Zone
Ventures using an evidence-based approach to test big ideas through research and problem-solving.

• Social Ventures Zone
Transforming ideas into action to create positive and viable social change.

• Transmedia Zone
Innovation in content and storytelling through ideation and prototyping.

Advancing Canadian innovation
Zone Learning’s efforts to expand entrepreneurial culture beyond the campus’ borders come in the form of collaborative partnerships. The group has launched or supported incubators locally – in Brampton, Innisfil and Niagara Falls – as well as internationally – in India, Vietnam, Jordan, Japan, Bermuda, Turkey and, most recently, Egypt.

However, its open-source model also extends to partnerships with other post-secondary institutions. The Lab2Market program, launched and co-led by Ryerson and Dalhousie universities empowers Canadian-based deep technology researchers to accelerate their innovations from academic labs into new ventures that impact society and the economy.

Realizing the potential of Canadian innovation, as well as the systemic gaps of entrepreneurship, Zone Learning is also working to make the ecosystem more inclusive by developing incubation streams and grant programs that specifically support entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous, persons of colour or women. Ryerson as a whole prioritizes equity and diversity, and at the time of this submission, is in the process of renaming itself in recognition of the harm done to Indigenous communities in Canada.

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