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York Region Innovation Portal

The York Region Innovation Leadership Group

The York Region Innovation Leadership Group is an industry-led group that provides strategic guidance to the Innovation Pillar in the next iteration of York Region’s Economic Development Action Plan. The inaugural term of the York Region Innovation Leadership Group will be approximately 24 months; subject to review after 18 months and will further enhance York Region’s strong entrepreneurial and innovation culture by identifying immediate and future innovation opportunities.

The Innovation Leadership Group will meet quarterly throughout the year or as required, to review and discuss issues and action items pertaining to its mandate and to identify and investigate opportunities relating to supporting innovation in York Region.  Non-members, such as subject matter experts, may be invited by York Region staff to attend the meetings and participate in discussions on a case-by-case basis.

The Background & Mandate

York Region is an enabler and funder of innovation through the York Region Innovation Portal and evidenced by its partnership with the regional innovation centre, ventureLAB, its investment in innovation-supporting infrastructure through YorkNet, support for an increased post-secondary presence, and its ongoing engagement with various public-sector and private-sector stakeholders.

In Q3 2022, York Region’s Economic Strategy Unit completed an Innovation Network Study, which investigated the formation, growth, trends, and needs of the innovation community. The Study recommended the convening of an industry-led advisory body with tech leaders to help identify emerging opportunities and industry gaps.

To further understand York Region’s innovation ecosystem and the supports and conditions required for it to thrive, it was determined that the development of an Innovation Leadership Group would enable York Region to leverage the knowledge of experts, build relationships with industry leaders, and strengthen the scope of the Region’s Innovation portfolio.

The mandate of the York Region Innovation Leadership Group includes:

  • Providing industry insights on the current and future-state of York Region’s innovation ecosystem
  • Assisting York Region with identifying innovation-related opportunities, risks, challenges, and needs
  • Fostering mutually-beneficial and productive relationships between the business community and the Region
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Members of the York Region Innovation Leadership Group

Keith LooKeith Loo (Innovation Leadership Group Chair) is the CEO and Co-Founder of Skinopathy, a Toronto-based medical AI company developing advanced technologies for skin diseases and skin cancers.

Keith has more than 20 years of product and business experience working with firms such as Logitech, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and others. Keith has worked also with some of the world’s largest retailers, banks, telcos, and technology firms to build their Data & AI strategies and innovation labs.

Keith is an entrepreneurship instructor at the Schulich School of Business where he teaches and advises MBA and BBA students on how to build, grow, and sustain new ventures.

Ben Rogers

As Dean, Seneca Innovation, Ben Rogers is responsible for developing and nurturing relationships within the innovation ecosystem including all levels of government and their agencies, national and provincial college and polytechnic associations, other postsecondary institutions and strategic industry partners.

Ben is an industry-academic partnerships leader with over 15 years of experience in strategic planning, developing innovation partnerships and building high-performance teams. He holds a master of business, entrepreneurship and technology degree and a bachelor of science (biology and business), both from the University of Waterloo.

Courtney Cole

Courtney Cole is the founded and CEO of ForaHealthyMe Inc, an Integrated AI-enabled Tele-Rehab & Behavioral Health Solution.

Founded in 2012, ForaHealthyMe Inc. worked with partners and customers in the United States, Europe, and Asia to solve complex health challenges like long COVID and related issues. From an innovation front, the company brought new solutions to the market leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, human motion capture, data and analytics.

As an entrepreneur and founder, Courtney has worked with partners and customers in the United States, Europe, and Asia to solve complex health challenges for mental health, spinal cord injury, musculoskeletal, cardiac, long COVID and related issues.

As a thought leader and panelist, Courtney has presented at local and global conferences and served as a panelist on a variety of health, technology, and innovation topics.

Beric Farmer

Beric Farmer was born and raised in York Region and currently lives in Newmarket with his wonderful family.

In 1993, shortly before graduating from the University of Waterloo with a degree in Computer Science, Beric co-founded XE.com Inc. with a high school friend. Together, starting from their global headquarters in the basement of Beric’s parents’ house in East Gwillimbury, they built XE into the World’s Trusted Currency Authority, empowering hundreds of millions of people around the globe to make better, more informed foreign exchange decisions and facilitating billions of dollars in international payments through its website and apps.

Beric is actively involved in the community.  He is a member of the Newmarket Economic Development Advisory Committee, the York Region Innovation Leadership Group, and volunteers his time with several local organizations. Beric has also volunteered as an Associate with the Rotman School of Business’s Creative Destruction Lab, a seed-stage accelerator program for massively scalable science and technology-based companies.

Beric’s favourite place in York Region is the land on which he grew up in East Gwillimbury. He spent – and sometimes mis-spent – countless hours of his youth enjoying and exploring its natural beauty with friends and family.

Sen Sachi

Sen Sachi is a passionate and highly-driven entrepreneurial leader. Sen has co-founded two tech companies, held various leadership roles at esteemed organizations such as Elevate, The DMZ, and Communitech, and mentored over 100 scaling tech startups.

Dina Tzirakos

Dina Tzirakos-Hawer is the Executive Director of the York Angel Investors. She has 15 years of expertise across finance, operations, manufacturing, strategy, law, municipal governance and management. Her leadership approach is fundamentally anchored in collaboration and teamwork. Known for her accessibility and firm belief in the efficacy of team-oriented environments in both private and non-profit sectors, her leadership style is defined by empathy, a drive for innovation and an unwavering dedication to excellence. This positions her as a respected mentor and proactive advocate for transformative change within and outside the workplace.

Most recently, Dina held the position of Managing Director at an innovation center in Central Ontario, where she was instrumental in supporting entrepreneurial success through curated programming and peer-to-peer support initiatives. Her strategic approach to forging partnerships with private partners, municipalities, and academic institutions has markedly amplified the center’s role in the ecosystem.

Laura BradleyGeneral Manager of YorkNet since 2018, Laura Bradley leads the YorkNet team responsible for
building a dark fibre network owned by the Regional Municipality of York that connects Regional operations and many facilities for its nine local municipalities.

YorkNet also collaborates with private sector companies to expand network reach and connectivity to enable the delivery of telecom services to York Region residents and businesses.

As a seasoned leader, Laura has more than 30 years of experience in the Canadian telecom industry. She brings a wealth of knowledge in business management, network deployment and strategic planning.

Laura has worked with various municipalities and government organizations to further enhance the deployment of broadband networks and initiatives. She has a strong track record of delivering equitable access to reliable, cost-effective broadband in underserved communities. Laura has dedicated more than half her career to ensuring rural communities are not left behind in the new digital world. She also passionately believes fibre is the key infrastructure for the future of Smart Communities.

Under Laura’s leadership, YorkNet has and continues to make considerable progress to connect York Region’s underserved rural communities and remains committed to closing the Region’s digital divide.

Laura is a Professional Engineer and holds a Bachelor of Applied Science from Queen’s University.

Jason LeeJason Lee is Director of Strategic Programs at the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI). He currently leads the Critical Industrial Technologies program focused on accelerating the adoption, integration and development of critical technologies (5G, AI, Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Quantum, Robotics) for Ontario’s key industrial sectors, Advanced Manufacturing, Agri-Food, Construction and Mining.

Previously, Jason spent time in the innovation ecosystem working with early to later stage companies in Canada and running technology innovation programs. Most recently prior to OCI, Jason spent time working in one of Canada’s largest telecom operators under their 5G Partnerships and Innovation team.

Paul Karam

Paul Karam is Chief Operating Officer at Quanser, a company that partners with universities around the world to develop engineering platforms that accelerate research and transform educational experiences. Paul manages the business development initiatives as well as Quanser’s R&D roadmap and day to day operation.

Paul spent 10 years leading the engineering team in its mandate to develop transformational lab solutions that empower a global community of educators and researchers. Paul’s vision and guidance is essential to ensuring that the R&D team is able to deliver solutions that are effective, sustainable, and academically appropriate.

David KwokDavid Kwok, a visionary in innovation ecosystem development and a leader in fostering growth, holds a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Entrepreneurship & Marketing from Toronto Metropolitan University. Since 2013, he has been a driving force in the innovation landscape.

Currently serving as the Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at YSpace with York University, David has raised over $13 million in funding since 2017, expanding YSpace’s impact nationwide.

As a founder himself, he brings invaluable experience to the team, supporting businesses in developing and scaling. David co-founded YSpace, York’s first physical incubator, and Ontario’s pioneering Food & Beverage Accelerator. He oversees ELLA, a national women accelerator program, and the Black Entrepreneurship Alliance in collaboration with Black Creek Community Health Centre.

Under his leadership, several of YSpace’s programs have gone national including the Food & Beverage Accelerator has evolved into a national program, championing underrepresented founders in agrifood through support from Agriculture & Agrifood Canada’s AgriDiversity initiative.

David has also successfully led the development of two physical entrepreneurial hubs in York Region including one in the City of Markham and one in the Town of Georgina.

Mark WitkowiczMark Witkowicz is the VP of Business Development & Marketing at Everlink Payment Services, a payments solutions provider based in Markham, Ontario, serving Canadian credit unions, Schedule II banks, fintechs and international merchant acquirers. Mark is responsible for revenue growth, product marketing and client satisfaction. Under his leadership, Everlink has captured 98% of the credit union and 55% of the commercial facing bank market share in Canada over the last seven years. He is a seasoned industry veteran with over 24 years of payments and mobile experience.

Prior to Everlink, Mark held the position of VP of Payments & Mobile with Rycom Inc., where he managed their payment gateway services for Canada’s largest payment processors.  Mark also has a strong technology and networking background holding key business development positions at Extreme Networks, Nortel Networks, Olicom Inc. and CrossComm Inc.

Usha Srinivasan

Usha Srinivasan (Vice-Chair of Innovation Leadership Group) is Director of Brampton Venture Zone. She is a strategic innovation leader, collaborative community builder, and entrepreneurship maven.  since the late ’90s spans academic research, market research consulting, and innovation ecosystem building.

Usha was responsible for building MaRS entrepreneurship programming in her former vice president, Venture and Talent. She has recently taken on the challenge of building and scaling the BVZ Venture launched in 2020 and looks forward to coaching entrepreneurs and scaling businesses to solve local challenges.

She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology and a business degree from Standford GSB in Corporation Innovation.

Harry Zarek

Harry Zarek is the President , CEO and founder of Compugen, a large North American Information Technology Solution Provider working with mid- to large-size organizations across both public and private sectors. With the changes in technology introduced by cloud technologies, consumerization of the end-user environment, and other disruptive technologies, Compugen is transforming into a services-led IT infrastructure leader—helping deliver predictable business outcomes through technology.

Compugen is providing strategic, long-term managed services to customers who depend on our agility and creativity to help them achieve their business goals. The company is focused on two key infrastructure platforms Modern Workspace and Hybrid IT. These are supported by underlying skills in networks, security and management. All services are supported through an extensive commitment to Lifecycle Management of Technology through the lens of Customer Experience.

Compugen has a staff of 1,600 supporting customers across Canada and the United States. Compugen works closely with our customers as they adapt to the workspace culture – giving staff the tools and environment they need to succeed; and delivers insight and experience as they seek the right mix between cloud and on premise technology to achieve their business goals. Focus industries include healthcare, education, energy, utilities, and retail. In 2022, the company’s revenue exceeded $750M.

Harry is on the advisory boards of a number of industry leaders, including HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco Systems, Intel and Microsoft.

Avinash Persaud Avinash Persaud is VP of the Hardware Catalyst Initiative at ventureLAB and has decades of experience in the technology sector – in software, hardware and semiconductor development and production. He started his career at Bell Northern Research, followed by Nortel, Leitch Technologies, ATI, AMD, Fresco Microchip and most recently Spectra7 Microsystems. Most recently he has set up end-to-end semiconductor supply chains in Asia from wafer production, IC assembly and test, board assemblies and box builds.

He is experienced in set up of ISO systems, NPI and PDP development process, product characterisation, and qualification and many other aspects of bringing hardware products to market.

Doug McIntyre

Doug McIntyre qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG in Ottawa focusing on high-tech clientele. During the 1980s, he served as CFO of Barringer Research, the first foreign NASDAQ  listing that developed “walk-through” metal, bomb, and drug detectors that we experience on each trip.

A York Region “high-tech” advocate, he coached many start-ups to success and failures. He served as a Board member & Chair of the York Technology Association (now Tech Connect). Doug initiated the continuing monthly CEO, Sales, and Marketing seminars that support Tech Connect start-ups today!

In 1999,  Xenos Group Inc., the developer of bill presentment, and bill payment sites that we use today. As CFO, he supported their fast growth to an August 2000 public offering, ending the year as one of TSX’s fastest growth initial offerings!

Soon after, Doug joined Bob Glandfield, a long-time NRC IRAP advisor, in convincing Mayor Don Cousens, NRC, and Ontario’s Innovation Ministry to fund one of the first incubators; The Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham supported many start-ups and has now evolved into Venture Labs!

Doug mentored numerous serial entrepreneurs and founders including Mohan Markandier (Now Good News Ventures), Chris Rasmussen (Doxim), Gord Demers (Taylor Demers) to great success.

He also coached and later joined Garry Lee through 4 successful iterations of compliance testing facilities. Doug retired a few years ago but was invited back to Megalab Group charged with building relationships with RICs and Angel Networks focused on supporting start-ups.

DISCLAIMER: The Innovation Leadership Group is not a committee of York Regional Council. It is an industry-led visionary group. This Group will be administered by York Region’s Economic Strategy Staff. York Region staff will select and invite members from York Region’s Innovation Ecosystem to participate on this Group. For more information about the York Region Innovation Leadership Group, please contact: Charles Banfield, Manager, Strategic Economic Initiatives.