The first cohort of Lab2Market, the Canadian organization that helps researchers form businesses, will be a Dalhousie University program dedicated to healthcare innovation in light of the current pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis has forced the national group to alter its plans and open applications until April 17 for a healthcare cohort, which will run over the summer.  

Modeled on successful programs in the U.S. and U.K., Lab2Market works with PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers to determine whether their scientific discoveries can be developed into startups. Ryerson University in Toronto, Dalhousie University in Halifax and Memorial University of Newfoundland originally signed up to oversee two pilot cohorts each over the next two years.

Ryerson was due to conduct the first pilot this summer, with the two East Coast universities following in the autumn. Covid-19 changed all that. The Ryerson pilot has been placed on hold, and Dalhousie will now hold the debut cohort, dedicated to healthcare, this summer. Then Dal and MUN will hold cohorts in the autumn, with the MUN cohort focusing on ocean technology.

“With the current climate, we thought there was an opportunity and a need [for a healthcare cohort] in terms of what's going on,” Spencer Giffin, Dal’s new Assistant Director of Commercialization and Startups, said in an interview. “It made sense because 65 percent of the research at Dalhousie is in healthcare and we were asking ourselves how can we support it.”

He added that Lab2Market aims to help researchers and their collaborators discover whether there are commercial opportunities for their research, which is a task that can be carried out while labs are closed due to Covid-19. The teams will conduct customer discovery – research with potential customers during the idea phase of launching a business – and other tasks that can be done while respecting social distancing rules.  

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The program’s methodology was developed by the National Science Foundation in the U.S., which believes scientists within universities and research institutions make discoveries that could be the foundation of new companies, but researchers need to learn how to research potential markets and how to bring products to market.

The NSF’s I-Corps program calls for each team to have three members – a researcher, a business development person, and a mentor (usually from industry). The Lab2Market cohorts run for two months and provide these teams with $15,000 to help cover the costs of researching their proposals.

Lab2Market-Health, as the Dal pilot is known, is an attempt to respond to the stresses placed on the healthcare system by the pandemic, though the organizers admit the resulting products won’t be on the market in time to help with the current crisis.

“Healthcare systems are—explicitly—on a war footing to increase their capacity of beds, supplies, and trained workers,” said the Dal innovation team in a memo. “Efforts are underway to alleviate shortages of much-needed medical supplies. While the current focus is on responding to the crisis, the future of healthcare will be driven by a re-imagined system driven by innovation.”

Lab2Market-Health aims to improve healthcare by researching such innovations as:

  • Diagnostics, drugs and therapeutics, as well as medical devices in vaccinology, immunology and infectious diseases;
  • Artificial Intelligence for prediction of infectious diseases and pandemics, new drug discovery and health system responses to pandemics;
  • Disease surveillance and health system innovation for pandemics and reducing the threat of epidemics through the development and use of innovative tools;
  • Digital and virtual health solutions.

You can apply for the Lab2Market-Health cohort here.