Q&A with Innovation Boulevard CEO Louise Turner
August 20, 2018
Given your experience, what attracted you to Innovation Boulevard?
Innovation Boulevard is the intersection point between three large institutions: the City of Surrey, Simon Fraser University, and the Fraser Health Authority. Through this partnership of government, academia, and health, we are able to service various groups, including citizens, patients, students, researchers, and taxpayers, that are collectively creating opportunities to do great things. These Surrey institutions have overlapping areas of interest: economic development, growth, and a healthy population and community, providing Innovation Boulevard with the potential to synergize these interests and produce opportunities to benefit all groups.
What makes Surrey a strategic location for innovation, especially in health tech?
Surrey has innovation built into their DNA. The city is actively working and striving to move forward in innovation and that reflects in the attitudes in people here, as well as the goals and ambitions of its institutions. The Fraser Health Authority is British Columbia’s largest health authority and our partnership with them gives us an abundance of opportunities to positively impact health outcomes for patients with the right tools. Surrey is definitely a happening kind of place. Not enough people see the city for what it has transformed into: a fast growing metropolitan centre with a very young population of people who are looking to get educated and contribute to the economy. That is what makes Surrey an interesting and exciting place to be.
What will Innovation Boulevard’s focus be, moving forward?
All the things we’ve done before are still very much our priority. So, helping health tech companies start up, commercialize, grow, be successful, and sell into the health care system – that’s all important. But going back to my response to your first question, there is a lot more intersections of interests between our collaborating partners than just growing companies.
On top of growing companies, there is also an educational aspect. Simon Fraser University is a leading academic institution that is doing an amazing job at educating people to become workplace-ready. That is a different kind of economic development; it is educational development. It’s about growing the skilled workforce, not just companies.
Another opportunity is helping the health care system adopt new technologies that will improve health outcomes and save money. These technologies may come from local companies, but there is also work to be done in facilitating technology transfers from the research world. There is a lot of great technology in universities across the province that should be in the hands of entrepreneurs who can develop great companies. We are looking into how we could facilitate that transfer of knowledge and technology.
So, if you think previously that Innovation Boulevard had one string to our bow, now we have four or five. That first string is still very important and still the anchor for what we’re doing, but it’s not the only thing. There’s an opportunity to start projects and move ahead in all these areas.
What role do you envision Innovation Boulevard playing in developing Surrey into a centre of innovation excellence, especially in the health tech industry?
If you are a new company trying to develop a new health care solution, it’s very difficult to find a way into the system. There’s good reason for this. The people in the health care system are passionate about providing awesome care for people, but they also don’t want to “damage the system” or stop any part of it working functionally. There’s a lot built in to keep everything the same because that predictability gives us a lot of what we want. Part of what I’m doing with Innovation Boulevard is deliberately leading initiatives so that we can test out safe and controlled ways to trial new technologies and innovations in partnership with the health care system, and, once we’re certain that they are a good idea, to help the health care system to adopt them. To my knowledge, we’re the only ones in Western Canada doing this.
Also, at the moment we are talking with the health authority about areas they particularly want to work on, so that we can help them improve some of their procurement processes. Procurement becomes part of the last thing that everybody thinks about, but it really needs to be the first thing we need to think about. By beginning with the end in mind, they can actually buy something when they are ready to.
What kind of foundation(s) are you looking to create with Innovation Boulevard?
I am very deliberate in wanting Innovation Boulevard to be setting up systems which are repeatable. These systems can be improved a little bit every time, but fundamentally, we have a set of steps that are very clear and transparent. We are working with the health authority so that we can test some of those things out, creating processes that give them great information so that they can judge whether the improvement in patient outcome and costs justify its adoption. If not, maybe the new technology is a good start, but additional feedback could be provided so that the entrepreneur can go back and improve their technology performance so that it really becomes worthwhile. I believe that the technology isn’t the only important piece. Establishing a dialogue between the entrepreneurs and people holding the technology and the health care system is important as well.
What is your vision for Innovation Boulevard?
It is critical to start with “baby steps” and this means starting with small projects, proving things out, and expanding gradually. That said, there is no reason why a series of small steps can’t take you a very long distance. In terms of what I would like to build in Surrey in Innovation Boulevard is a place where we have a clear, predictable pathway for innovations to be tried out in the health care system, to be adopted if they prove valuable enough to be recommended to others from here, and that will attract more innovation, more innovators, and more resources to help us improve the system. My vision for Innovation Boulevard is ultimately that innovators from all around the world would say, “Hey, I have this idea I want to try out in the health care system somewhere in the world. I have to take it to Innovation Boulevard.”
What does success look like at Innovation Boulevard?
We already have a brand that is getting attention from people, and we want to perpetuate that brand and live up to the idea that Innovation Boulevard really is a cool and interesting place where smart people are doing smart things to add value and improve people’s lives in relation to health, community, and business issues. As I said, we want to make British Columbia the place where innovators look to and say, “Hey, you want to know the latest cool thing they’re doing in health? You should go look at what’s happening in Innovation Boulevard.”
Louise Turner will be joined by other like-minded innovation leaders at the Disruptive Tech Talks event on September 12, 2018 at Surrey’s new Civic Hotel. Visit Invest Surrey’s event page to learn more. Alternatively, feel free to contact Invest Surrey to see how you can grow your health technology innovations in Surrey.