WD Asia making high-tech connections abroad

The global impact of WORLDiscoveries ­– a technology-transfer centre based at Western – has a new success story to tell, this time in the partnerships forged with Canadian and Asian business interests.

WORLDiscoveries Asia began in 2009 as a gateway between Asia and small- and medium-sized Canadian businesses wanting to commercialize their high-tech science innovations abroad. In April 2017, the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science chose Western, through WORLDiscoveries, to launch a one-year program to help Ontario research institutes and enterprises explore opportunities in the Asian market for technology-based partnerships.

With expertise at its offices in Hong Kong, Nanjing, Toronto and at Western, the group has exceeded its goals for that grant period, said Ting Ling, WORLDiscoveries Asia (WD Asia) Director:

  • Since April 2017, WD Asia has expanded to represent 30 new Ontario organizations (its aim was 24 organizations) and 100 new technologies (its goal was 70).
  • During that time, it has helped close three Ontario-China deals ­– two licencing partnerships and one equity investment agreement.
  • WD Asia has generated almost $100,000 in revenue for providing professional services during negotiations and mission trips to China.

“We were the first with boots on the ground to promote Ontario projects,” he said, and that gave WD Asia credibility and capability unmatched by any other organization in the province.

In the first years of its work, up until 2016, WD Asia helped close 10 deals in Asia and generate more than $2 million in intellectual-property licensing revenue and research sponsorship. The value of projects, collaborations, partnerships and start-ups emerging from these deals is valued at more than $30 million.

Ling said the Ontario Ministry recognized that expertise, as have other research organizations looking to make connections to new markets but lacking the know-how or resources to make it happen.

“It’s unprecedented for a university technology-transfer centre to receive a strategic grant from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, (a grant) that’s not based on one or more specific research projects,” he noted.

“We’re providing services to organizations outside Western, including other provincial universities — that’s a new thing and testament to our leadership in Asia: nobody else had the infrastructure in place.”

WD Asia is the first permanent technology commercialization entity in Asia ever created by a Canadian organization.

Many Canadian companies crave the untapped opportunities of Asian markets: its large population base, its willingness to embrace technological change, its growing potential for venture capital and other investments. But it’s much more difficult – and requires specific skillsets and relationships ­– to forge such partnerships than in European and North American markets.

“Asia matters. Asia is becoming more relevant and more important,” and high-tech investors are keen to explore the resources WORLDiscoveries and WD Asia have cultivated, Ling said.

Deals so far include an agreement to provide biomass technology that would convert agricultural waste into new energy sources; an innovative imaging projects; and a health-based technology.

WD Asia is a subsidiary of WORLDiscoveries, which is the technology transfer and business development office of Western University, Robarts Research Institute and Lawson Health Research Institute’s research network, and helps bring innovative Canadian research from labs into investment, development and real-world applications globally.

Since its beginnings, WD Asia has maintained close ties to Western while moving far beyond a local or even provincial impact. Fewer than 10 per cent of the ventures it represents are based here – testament to the credibility it has forged outside of local research circles.

And the connections aren’t just outward-bound: WD Asia has become recognized in China as a go-to place for anyone with an interest in developing connections with innovative Canadian-grown technologies.

“We can now say that WORLDiscoveries in Asia really does represent Ontario in Asia. We are the leading partner with Asia in science and technology transfer partnerships,” he said.