Sheldon Levy is thinking about the future of health care.
Best known for his transformative tenure as president of Ryerson University, Levy has for the last year and a half served as CEO of the the non-profit startup incubator NEXT Canada.
He has big plans to expand operations to Montreal and western Canada, and just recently moved the operation into a larger office space that can house all of its startups.
But, sitting in his new corner office at the corner of Bloor and Church streets in downtown Toronto, it’s NEXT Health that gets him really excited.
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“If this ever was able to take off, everything else becomes minimized,” he said, in an exclusive interview with the Financial Post.
Levy was careful with his words, because the idea is still in development, but he said shortly after he started at NEXT Canada, he was approached by a group of hospital administrators who wanted help bringing innovative ideas and technology to Canada’s healthcare sector.
Levy said that his incubator is already helping to foster several health-related startups, but it’s tough.
“The truth of it is, no matter what their idea is, they will get bruised fingers as they continue to knock on the door of Canada’s health system,” he said.
“We need hospitals across the country that are into this, that will take it as their mandate to support the adoption strategy for new technologies in health.”
Levy said that they already have several large, recognizable hospitals in the GTA signed on to adopt technologies from NEXT Health when it launches, hopefully at the end of this year or early in 2019.
Now they’re lining up other partners across the country, and in the United States.
If this works, it will give health tech companies a fast track to commercialization, by giving them customers, validation in a real-world environment, and endorsements from leading health care institutions.
It’s ambitious, but Levy might be the sort of person who can pull it off.
At Ryerson, Levy helped pioneer the trend of tech incubators and accelerators in Canada by founding the DMZ.
“It was simply unknown. It was literally the first time anyone tried it,” Levy said.
“The ballsy part of what we did, as I tell people, no committees, no anything, we just opened up the DMZ in a really, really nice space. And in some sense, the rest is history. It became the No. 1 university incubator in the world, recently.”
After leaving Ryerson, Levy did a turn in the Ontario government as deputy minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, a period that gave him a sense of why government is bad at innovation, and how to navigate the bureaucracy.
Levy now has plans to expand the NEXT AI stream for artificial intelligence startups to Montreal, to partner with the Scale.ai supercluster in Quebec.
Talking about his work, Levy is clearly excited about fostering entrepreneurs; he said part of the reason they moved to the office at Church and Bloor is so that they could put all the companies under one roof.
“I wanted to be close to the action, and the action was the teams,” he said.
All the same, in the eight years since the Ryerson DMZ and NEXT Canada were founded, Canada has become a crowded place for business incubators and accelerators.
Entrepreneurs sometimes hop from one incubator to another as they work to grow their companies.
Part of Levy’s play by moving into health tech and expanding the NEXT AI program to give it a national footprint is to make NEXT Canada one of the dominant players in this scene.
“I think it’s an evolutionary thing, and I do think it’s time for a consolidation of (incubators and accelerators),” Levy said. “We’re really at a point in Toronto where, if we were a business, we would be doing mergers and acquisitions.”