Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for inviting me.
I'm Hossein Rahnama. I'm the director of research and innovation at the Digital Media Zone, which is a start-up incubator based in Toronto that we started about five years ago. The vision we had behind the Digital Media Zone was to support young researchers and innovators to be able to work in non-siloed environments to bring their innovation and research to market very effectively.
What we noticed back then in our university was that we tended to silo people, with electrical engineering in one building, fashion in another building, and biotech in a separate building. With the Digital Media Zone, when we brought these researchers together and got rid of those walls, we immediately saw disruptive technologies emerging, whether from our research groups or young entrepreneurs, and they quickly commercialized that research and turned it into start-ups. We built a framework and now, after four years, have created more than 1,700 jobs and about 172 start-ups, and we have developed more than 20 patents that we are trying to move from the research lab to the market.
In observing how young entrepreneurs work, we have made some key observations. They are trying to learn more from each other rather than from professors. They like to go to their classroom, but they are also looking for settings where they can learn from each other. They want to have that freedom so they can go there in their jeans and T-shirts, work around their ideas, and bring them to the market.
What we learned was that the university had to value discovery-based research as much as research commercialization. Maybe a professor didn't want to commercialize the research on her own, but we wanted to give that IP to a group of entrepreneurial students to take to market, especially when we considered disruptive technologies.
The other thing we observed was that our IP policies needed to change. The way we looked at IP from a pharmaceutical lab, let's say, was not necessarily the IP policy that we needed in an ICT or a computer science setting, because the same student could invent the next big thing with just an iPhone and a laptop, so the investment the university had to put in place was very different from the investment for a pharmaceutical lab. We started to favour moving IP towards our students so that they are motivated to bring these disruptive technologies to the market.
There was another challenge that we faced. I spun off a research company from our university, a company called Flybits, which was back then, about three years ago, a research program, and now it's a growing start-up funded by Vodafone, one of the largest carriers in Europe. They brought that funding to Canada. The challenge we saw with Flybits, which is a spinoff from our research lab, was that in Canada we did not have good disruptive technology adopters. We did fantastically in terms of protecting that research, but we couldn't find organizations to say that they were willing to be the first one, that they were willing to be the first adopter in Canada so that we could validate our technology and then export it to the rest of the world.
If you look at Flybits, you'll see that the first technology we deployed was in France for the Paris Métro. Then Metrolinx became interested. We had to bring in Vodafone to invest in the company before we could have Canadian VCs helping us bring that forward.
In identifying those challenges, we are now developing policies at Ryerson in order to be able to help these entrepreneurs and young innovators to bring their disruptive technologies to the market.
I can talk more about the ICT sector especially, because that's my background, but I really appreciate your invitation and am looking forward to answering any questions you may have.