Investment and innovation fuel renaissance in Kitchener | RENX


The city of Kitchener, located west of Toronto, has undergone major revitalization over the past two decades and remains a hotbed of development and innovation. (Google Maps)

Kitchener has undergone an impressive transformation in the past 20 years as a decaying core and declining manufacturing base gave way to more than $ 2 billion in residential and commercial construction downtown and an area rapidly growing technology.

Some of this progress was initiated by a $ 110 million Economic Development Investment Fund in 2000 and the rallying of public and private partners. Further growth will be facilitated by a new $ 110 million investment fund and the Make It Kitchener 2.0 strategy.

“In less than 20 years, we have gone from a place where no one would invest to selling residential units in minutes, to massive investments in transport infrastructure supporting an innovation corridor,” the mayor said. Berry Vrbanovic during a recent webinar hosted by the Toronto Chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

Vrbanovic was a city councilor for 20 years before becoming mayor of the city of about 250,000 inhabitants in 2014.

He witnessed the construction of the Region of Waterloolight rail system, the opening in 2008 of the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy in downtown Kitchener, the revitalization of a former tannery building into a technology hub, the redevelopment and repurposing of the former Kauffman shoe industrial building into residential units and more.

Kitchener sets the stage for new growth

University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and McMaster University now all of them have downtown campuses.

The Digital Kitchener Innovation Lab team explores how emerging technologies can improve urban services, including climate and air quality monitoring, multimodal traffic counting, and asset tracking.

Vrbanovic said improvements in transport infrastructure will continue. $ 1 billion investment is underway to deliver all day GO Transit rail service between Kitchener and Toronto, recognizing the importance of the innovation corridor between the two cities.

The Make It Kitchener 2.0 strategy was approved in November 2020. Part of the plan is to contribute $ 80 million by strategically leveraging some of the city’s land assets, retaining business and residential units for future strategic use, and reinvesting the proceeds of these sales.

IMAGE: Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. (Courtesy of ULI)

This funding will support long-term investments in healthcare innovation, creative industries, a network of startups focused on The United Nations‘sustainable development goals for community vitality and providing affordable housing.

“We need to ensure a full range of affordable housing options, from housing with supportive services to home ownership, which means thinking outside the box and tackling affordability directly,” Vrbanovic said.

“Our ambition is to create mixed-income and mixed-use communities through new investment models that allow the city to actively create affordable and accessible housing. “

In April, Kitchener was one of the first municipalities in Ontario to change its zoning to allow small houses and backyards. It is estimated that up to 25,000 properties could be eligible for construction under this zoning.

As the first major investment of the Make It Kitchener 2.0 Fund, the City of Kitchener has partnered with the University of Waterloo to build a 90,000 square foot innovation arena at the downtown health sciences campus .

“By leveraging our strengths in innovation, technology, data communications and manufacturing, we believe we will become a center of innovation in healthcare and medical technology,” said Vrbanovic.


Communitech was founded in 1997 by entrepreneurs determined to make the Region of Waterloo a global leader in innovation and to help technology companies start, grow and succeed. It has become a public-private innovation hub supporting more than 1,600 companies, from startups to scale-ups, including major global players.

“We make it cool to be a founder,” said Saj Jamal, vice president of marketing and events at Communitech. “’Don’t just find a job, change the world and create jobs’ was the mantra.

“So we did it by creating density and bringing together problem solvers. They will start to collaborate and there will be inherent competitiveness.

Communitech’s original goal was to support 100 businesses, generate 2,000 jobs and attract $ 100 million in capital. In his first five years, Jamal said he created 16,000 jobs. It attracted $ 800 million in capital in 2018 and 2019.

Its member companies have more than one million employees.

In the fiscal year starting in April 2020, 348 new businesses were created, the number of new jobs created increased to 22,400 and member companies now have more than 5,000 open positions to fill. Affiliates attracted $ 1.37 billion in capital, exceeding Communitech’s 2025 target.

Communitech has attracted an additional $ 1.1 billion in new capital over the previous 30 days, according to Jamal, who said Kitchener “was home to risk-takers willing to make big bets.”

Maxwell Building Consultants

Dynamic developments was one of the first developers to build large-scale residential units in downtown Kitchener and has marketed nearly 1,200 condominium units.

“Kitchener was aimed at attracting the same target market that we were as condominium developers and the City of Kitchener was making a huge investment to make sure he was successful, ”said Mike Maxwell, Momentum co-founder.

Maxwell is now president of Maxwell Building Consultants, which provides development, construction management and consulting services for the residential construction market. Maxwell is particularly interested in affordable housing, as supply lags behind demand.

“The issue of housing affordability is incredibly complex,” said Maxwell. “The costs of land and construction are increasing dramatically. Design and approvals take longer and involve more parts and stages. Demand is increasing due to migration patterns and population growth.

Maxwell said multiple solutions or programs are needed to continue solving the supply problem and they need to be implemented quickly and in parallel.

“We’d better have a partial 75% correct solution and implement it in three months than develop a solution that is 90% correct but does not implement for three years.

“This allows new programs and initiatives to be reviewed, improved, adjusted, improved, eliminated or duplicated, depending on their success. “

University of Waterloo

The University of Waterloo has 42,000 students and its main campus is located in the neighboring town of Kitchener, Waterloo. It offers the largest cooperative education program in the world, and students graduate with up to two years of paid work experience. The university works with nearly 1,000 local businesses to place students in the workplace every four months.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo are working with local manufacturers and other companies to help modernize their operations. His Speed The incubator currently helps around 80 companies by providing business and product development support.

Vice President of University Relations Sandra Banks said the city of Kitchener provided land and $ 30 million in 2005 to build its pharmacy school. She expects Velocity to occupy one of two floors of the new innovation arena, which will be located in a redeveloped warehouse, in mid-2023.

The second floor of the innovation arena will have a shared collaboration space that will allow small businesses to interact with more established tech companies to solve health concerns. It is also aimed at medical schools, health care providers and researchers in health technology and innovation.

“The mission of the Innovation Arena is to provide new health solutions for practitioners and patients, taking a very different approach to traditional medical schools, because we don’t have one,” Banks said. .

“We take a technology-driven approach to solving global and local health challenges, and a mission that will aim to create new businesses, new jobs and economic growth for the region. “

Intellijointe Surgery

Armen Bakirtzian was in his final year of engineering studies at the University of Waterloo in 2007 when he created a product to make hip replacement surgeries more precise. After winning the Next Top Young Entrepreneur Start-Up Pitch competition in 2010 and securing a first round of investment, Bakirtzian and two other entrepreneurs co-founded Intellijointe Surgery.

The Intellijoint HIP has been used by surgeons in thousands of procedures in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Intellijoint Surgical extends to other areas, including knee replacement surgery.

The company has raised more than $ 50 million in capital and has nearly 100 employees.

Intellijoint also spearheaded the creation of Xchange Medical Innovation, Canada’s first industry-led center dedicated to helping medical technology startups grow successfully. It is located in a 30,000 square foot facility on Wellington Street in Kitchener.

“I have always believed that Kitchener-Waterloo had the potential to be a powerhouse for national medical technology companies,” Bakirtzian said. “The story of Intellijoint bears witness to this conviction from day one.

“Our region occupies a unique position, equidistant from Toronto, London and Hamilton, giving us access to exceptional clinicians and teaching hospitals, and of course the heart of our ecosystem, the University of Waterloo,” said Bakirtzian.

“Intellijoint has proven that you can build a global medical technology company out of Kitchener-Waterloo. And with our continued investments in innovation and a strategic focus on innovation in health, our potential as a region has only increased. “


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