A plan to help our biotech industry be ready for the next emergency

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Seizing that moment will require some adjustments. We’ve become pretty good at churning out promising startups, thanks to a collection of world-class universities and generous support for the incubators that have popped up in every technology hotspot over the past decade. And Canadian governments have always been good at handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to famous multi-national companies, as the recent donation to Ford Motor Co. by the governments of Canada and Ontario attests.

You have to be intentional. We can no longer inch along

Karimah Es Sabar, Quark Venture

The problem is that we tend to fail mid-tier companies that would like to become heavyweights. Banks are wary of handing out mortgages for specialized industrial space, and politicians find it easier to back youngsters toiling in their dorm rooms than to make bigger bets on companies looking to scale. That’s one of the reasons so many ambitious biotech entrepreneurs end up in places such as Boston: their investors want them close, and those cities have plenty of unused factory space.


Shattuck has a plan to address the problem. McMaster Innovation Park’s advantage is that it caters to would-be manufacturers by offering the infrastructure they need to get to the next level. It currently controls about 700,000 square feet of real estate and plans to grow to 2.8 million square feet.

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But he’s going to need policymakers, banks and investors to play along, which means confronting something they tend to dislike: risk.

“Startups don’t create value, they consume value,” Shattuck said. “You can’t be all-startups any more than you can have a school with all kindergarteners. You’ve got to have graduates that eventually grow up and do the hard work and create value. And, frankly, we don’t have that yet.”

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