The JLABS Story: Getting “There” from Here

bh in Brief

Five years ago, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Janssen Research & Development combined their consumer medical device and pharmaceutical sectors to create JLABS, first in San Diego, and now in eight other innovation “hot spots” across North America – San Francisco (2), Boston, Houston, Toronto, and New York (opening 2018). JLABS provide flexible environments for start-up companies pursuing new technologies and research platforms to advance medical care.

JLABS @ Toronto is located at MaRS Discovery District and is a collaboration between Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the University of Toronto, MaRS Discovery District, MaRS Innovation, the Government of Ontario, and Janssen Inc. It also includes the following hospital partners: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Hospital for Sick Children, Sinai Health System, St. Michael’s Hospital, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and University Health Network.


“…positive collisions of people, ideas and resources…will usher in a new era of medicine”






Ever wonder where innovation takes place or how ideas become new technologies that turn into products that transform lives? Ever wonder what it would take for you or your organization to become a successful innovator in today’s technological world? If so, the JLABS story might have answers for you. 

Driving down Toronto’s University Avenue at College Street, you will be impressed by the mix of heritage buildings and modern skyscrapers, but may not realize you are in the midst of a remarkable, world-class hub of innovation, known as the MaRS Discovery District, which includes JLABS@Toronto. 

JLABS@Toronto was opened in 2016 by Johnson & Johnson Innovation to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for innovators to commercialize their ideas for improving health care. It is one of nine JLABS in North America and the first international site, attesting to the strength of science innovation Canada. As at the other sites, JLABS@Toronto takes care of most everything, allowing entrepreneurs to focus on their ideas and science. A 40,000 square-foot science innovation centre, it provides research labs with state-of-the-art equipment, common space for collaboration, and a wide range of supports that include training events, introductions to investors, and opportunities to consult with people from the field, including people with industry experience from the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) family of companies which cover consumer, medical device and pharmaceutical areas.

To find cutting edge ideas, J&J innovation holds competitive Quick Fire Challenges that provide a platform for the creation of unconventional health care solutions and can lead to a variety of awards, often including access to JLABS facilities as a resident company. Resident companies are free to interact with both J&J Innovation, and other biotech/pharma companies. J&J Innovation, JLABS is a no-strings-attached model, which means it does not claim first rights or ownership of intellectual property. Each company has a liaison or mentor at J&J Innovation and can tap into the full range of J&J’s extensive resources as the world’s largest healthcare company.

SPOT – A Case in Point

Among the greatest benefits of being part of JLABS are opportunities for building relationships that can lead to breakthrough discoveries that get products “there” – successfully down the long road to commercialization. Consider the journey of students at the University of Waterloo who created the SPOT UV Indicator – a sticker that changes colour to alert you that your sunscreen is no longer protecting you. To take their product to market, they needed money and expertise. After winning a Quick Fire Challenge, their start-up company, Suncayr, had both – and more. With advice from a team at J&J Innovations, they accessed a grant and tested their product in clinical trials in Australia, where the sun shines strong. They also got help from mentors at JLABS with expertise in consumer packaged goods. The result: SPOT will be for sale in Canada and Australia in 2017 and in Europe and the United States in 2018. You can find out more at

Lessons in Innovation

JLABS@Toronto opened as Canada is striving to promote innovation in all areas of endeavor, including the life sciences sector. Its reach in Canada will extend to other provinces as events are sponsored elsewhere, including Edmonton, Montréal and Vancouver. It joins other organizations in Canada, such as LifeSciences BC, in seeking to grow the sector through the commercialization of innovation.

Exciting as this activity is, and significant as findings will be, it is also important to consider what other, more established companies can take away from the initiative. Surely, one important lesson is that with the arrival of new technologies, all companies can follow JLABS’ lead and seize opportunities to become more innovative, encourage entrepreneurship, and provide the resources and support required to incubate ideas for new processes and solutions that can become business practices and consumer products for the twenty-first century.

Positioned for the Future

SPOT is just one of many products that is coming to market because of JLABS@Toronto. Ohers that will follow will have a profound effect on human health, generally, and broaden our understanding of specific diseases. The focus of resident companies within JLABS includes, among others, cancer, Alzheimer’s and metabolic disease research. Findings will undoubtedly change insurance designs and benefits profiles, as new devices and treatments that prevent or intercept disease alter the economics of health care. Innovation incubators, like JLABS@Toronto, are well positioned for the future.

With their focus on relationships and collaboration, Rebecca Yu, Head of JLABS@Toronto, is convinced that their facility and the wider family of J&J Innovation resources will have a distinct advantage going forward. “We are involved in all sectors of the life sciences. It’s going to get harder and harder to find cures. One person or one team can’t do it alone. Success is going to come from positive collisions of people, ideas and resources that, together, will usher in a new era of medicine.” bh

The MaRS Discovery District
Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District is a launch pad for innovators looking to solve big challenges facing our society and positively impact lives across the globe, in areas like health, clean energy, finance, and education. MaRS is one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs and has been working with social-impact companies for over a decade, providing them access to early-stage capital, cutting-edge research facilities, talent, and a network of advisors who can help them scale life-changing solutions globally. Covering 1.5 million square feet, MaRS is home to 250 organizations, employing 6,000 innovators. It also runs an exclusive new venture program for a network of 1,000 high-potential growth startups, which have collectively generated over $1.3 billion in revenue (from 2008-2015) are projected to grow to $1 billion annually by 2025.                                 
LifeSciences BC
LifeSciences BC is a non-profit, industry association which supports and represents the life science community of British Columbia through leadership, investment, advocacy and promotion.

“British Columbia’s life sciences sector … brings innovation to patients through diverse organizations, growth of a skilled workforce and development of a knowledge-based bio-economy.”

                                LifeSciences BC Sector Report 2015,



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