As Indianapolis officials eye creation of an ambitious innovation district on the city’s near-west side, a delegation of business and community leaders received an up-close and personal look at one of the world’s largest innovation hubs. Monday, participants in the Indy Chamber’s Leadership Exchange 2015 visited Toronto’s 1.5 million square-foot. MaRS Discovery District, a public-private partnership focused on commercializing innovation in information and communications, clean tech and health.
The entrepreneurial incubator has faced political and community concerns about funding and viability, but launched in 2005, thanks in part to $15 million from a pool of corporate investors, including Eli Lilly Canada.
"Innovation is not a short-term game," said Salim Teja, executive vice president of MaRS. "You have to have vision 15-20 years out and I think you want to be able to shape your economy and region to help create the kinds of companies you need and want."
The development is built on the foundation of the former Toronto General Hospital, in close proximity to the city’s medical, business and financial districts. With phase one of the project at capacity, MaRS recently completed a 20-story, 800,000 square-foot second tower, which has faced construction delays and critics, but has as attracted tenants that include Face Book Canada.
Teja says collaboration between the public and private sectors and leadership are essential for projects of this scope.
"For something this large, I think you often need entrepreneurial ambition and vision to pull it off," said Teja. "It’s about storytelling and it’s about painting a vision and I think without that kind of person or group, it’s hard to excite people about the possibility."
Indianapolis officials are considering creation of an innovation district in an area known as 16 Tech, near the IUPUI campus and the heart of the city’s medical research capabilities. It could be anchored by the planned $360 million Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, which would be part of a larger collection of knowledge-based companies that supporters say would be attracted there.
After touring the Toronto facility, Indy Chamber Chief Executive Officer Mike Huber said he was impressed. "The physical space is important," said Huber. "It’s about getting entrepreneurs and startups in close proximity to other startups, companies, banks and service providers."
MaRS Executive Vice President Salim Teja says innovation is not a short-term game.