Today, the University of Toronto is scaling its innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities to a new level. Accelerated by a historic $100 million donation by Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, the largest single gift in U of T’s history and the largest gift ever in the Canadian innovation sector, the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will house the largest university-based innovation node and the next generation of makers, builders, coders, artists, sellers, and leaders.

While the people and research in this new space look towards the future, the building itself is grounded in a history of medical innovation and deep impact on society. The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will stand on the location of the Best and Banting Institutes, named for the co-developers of insulin, Charles Best and Frederick Banting. Best was a medical student when he and Frederick Banting began their work to extract insulin, leading to the treatment of diabetes and one of the most important drugs ever developed. Students are the core of the university and Best demonstrated that, when given the opportunity, their innovations can truly impact the world.

Connecting science to society is the driving force behind the Impact Centre. When we first took up our space in the Best Institute in 2012, it consisted of abandoned labs and unloved offices. With the university’s support we were able to renovate the space into a nucleus for student entrepreneurship and innovation.

This space in the Best Institute has been home to seven editions of our Techno entrepreneurship training program, the classroom for hundreds of startup interns, the party room for numerous holiday parties, and the first desk for numerous startups. Founders and their startups in industries spanning drug discovery to sustainable farming have called this space home. This is where they celebrated victories and were consoled in defeats. While we will be sad to see the Best Institute go, we are equally excited about the opportunities for us in the new Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre.

The new building is still a few years away, but we have been working closely with the architects from Weiss/Manfredi to design a next-generation incubation space with offices, meeting rooms, laboratories, and prototyping space to help our student startups grow.

Since 2012, it has been our pleasure to breathe life into a previously-empty building and help demonstrate the amazing opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation on campus. This donation from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman is a unique opportunity to scale these activities and give them a new home.