Why Canada is becoming a start-up mecca rivaling Silicon Valley

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Ten years ago, when Toronto entrepreneur Brendan Frey wanted to start his company, he says, "conditions weren't right."

But by 2015, he found, the local environment had become a lot more hospitable to start-ups. So he launched Deep Genomics, a genetic medicine company. It uses artificial intelligence to discover and advance therapies for rare genetic disorders. Frey, a professor of engineering and medicine at University of Toronto, developed the technology at the university and launched his startup at MaRS, a hub with more than 200 partners in the corporate, government and academic worlds that helps connect startups with funding and advice.

"In the last five or six years, there has been an increasing tendency for the university to be open with its intellectual property, in terms of letting companies spin out of the university and take their IP with them," says Frey. "The University of Toronto and other universities in the Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal corridor have recognized if they are more open with letting their investigators take their IP, there is a very good chance those investigators will create new companies in Canada that will bring a lot of wealth into the innovation system."

Having raised $20 million in funding and hired 40 employees, Deep Genomics has just declared one drug candidate — a treatment for the rare and potentially life-threatening genetic disorder Wilson Disease — and plans to roll out nine additional candidates next year.

Frey believes the company's location has fueled its success.

Deep Genomics takes advantage of the Scientific Research & Experimental Development Program, through which the Canadian government matches every dollar of salary the company pays workers involved in R&D. "Canada has one of the strongest programs for encouraging companies that are tech-based to flourish," he says.