How a unique program in Waterloo will help build Canada's low-carbon economy

If you're not familiar with the geography around Waterloo, Ontario, you might not notice the David Johnston Research + Technology Park (R+T Park) as you drive along Columbia Street into town.

Located just north of the leafy University of Waterloo campus, the R+T grounds look like any other business park you might see on another university campus, despite it housing some of the world's most well-known tech companies.

And when the TD Sustainable Future Lab (Waterloo's first dedicated Clean Technology – or cleantech – accelerator program) opens its doors in the park in December 2018—its sole purpose will be to put some additional muscle behind building Canada's low-carbon economy by giving startup companies that are working to solve environmental issues a place to grow.

"Canada is losing ground when it comes to clean technologies," said John Stevens, VP of Strategy and External Relations at the Accelerator Centre (which will run the TD Sustainable Future Lab).

"We're falling behind other countries and it's becoming more and more apparent that something needs to be done. This is why we created this unique cleantech program based on our award-winning and globally-recognized start up Accelerator Program™—we know that Canada needs a unique offering in a unique building for clean technologies to be developed."

The program, which will support up to 40 companies over five years, will help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses through mentorship and funding opportunities, all under one roof. Beyond the resources available at the Lab, its proximity to the University of Waterloo is an important factor for the entrepreneurs that will go through the program.

"Let's say you have a startup who's working on a sustainable energy challenge," said Stevens. "If they have a question they can't answer, they can just walk across the hall and speak to a researcher from the University who works on these problems all the time."

"Likewise, researchers need a place to test out their ideas, so the Lab will be an important resource for the academic community as well," added Stevens.

Fittingly, the Lab will be housed in Waterloo's newest carbon-positive building, evolv1—the first commercial building of its kind in Canada with a goal to not only produce zero carbon emissions, but actually help clean up the environment.  

"Canadians are passionate about improving sustainability," said Paul Salvini, CEO of the Accelerator Centre. "For the first time, we are pulling together organizations across the region to support entrepreneurs who are excited about developing our low-carbon economy and to make their ambitious ideas a reality."

TD, through The Ready Commitment, is making a $1 million contribution to help establish the Lab.

"Building a low-carbon economy is an opportunity for Canada, and this important contribution builds on our goal of helping to create a sustainable and inclusive tomorrow," said Nicole Vadori, Head of Environment at TD. "The Waterloo region has a rich history of innovation and nurturing the development of global technology companies and leaders. We believe our contribution to homegrown cleantech companies will help them compete in the global market."

Technologies like electric cars or solar panels are well-known examples of cleantech that many Canadians are already familiar with, but more environmentally friendly food production methods or smartphone apps that help manage our energy use at home are some other examples of how innovations in this industry improve our lives in a sustainable way.

Stevens explained that one of the most important traits they will look for in startups that apply to the program is that their technology helps make the world a better place.

"We don't want to find companies that are just trying to do more of the same," said Stevens. "When a new company applies to the program, we ask ourselves: is this technology or concept going to make the world a better place? This is at the core of what we do."

To learn more about the Accelerator Centre's programs, visit acceleratorcentre.com.