The Business of Innovation
The Science Discovery Zone

The Science Discovery Zone: Inspiring Entrepreneurship and Experiential Learning at TMU’s Science Incubator

Back in 2016, chemist Dr. Bryan Koivisto and fellow professors were seeing more and more students pitch innovative ideas, with no physical space to develop them. The university’s unique Zone Learning startup ecosystem was taking off at the time, and “learning by doing” has always been the TMU way. The Science Discovery Zone (SDZ) was soon born. Science and entrepreneurship began interfacing on campus, and Dr. Koivisto became the founding director.

companies incubated

Since then, the SDZ has opened its doors to students, alumni, professors, industry partners— and anyone else curious about the business of innovating. No experience required; not even a business idea. Just a spirit of exploration, readiness to embrace risk and the drive to build ideas from the ground up.

In 2018, the SDZ had a new home in the Centre for Urban Innovation and its next director. Dr. Camila Londoño — herself a bioengineering PhD and business development specialist. The community now had fresh, contemporary spaces to learn, network, brainstorm ideas and tinker in the lab and fabrication facilities.

Creativity has been diverse — from smart glasses that alert Alzheimer’s patient caregivers in an emergency to flexible, transparent solar cells that collect solar power in places other than flat rooftops. Hundreds of members have entered the startup world, pivoted into new directions, and gained transferable skills for life.

Camila Londoño
DR. Camila Londoño

SDZ Director

From the director’s desk:

“A lot of problems today are ones that science can solve, but the idea has to be sustainable financially, environmentally and socially. People often focus on the “science” part of our name, but the “discovery” part is even more important. The disconnect between science and business isn’t really that big. Every FOS student has amazing, meaningful ideas to bring to the world. We simply help them bridge the gap.”

— Dr. Camila Londoño, SDZ Director

funding raised
revenue generated
Science Discovery Zone
Canadian partnerships
international partnerships in Europe, Asia and South America
Ashnie Badal
Ashnie Badal

Student impact

Chemistry undergraduate Ashnie Badal is a case in point of the SDZ’s transformative power. Shy but curious, she joined the SDZ in 2018. Participating in hackathons, networking events, improv classes and other events and workshops, Ashnie began to blossom. After completing her degree, she became the zone’s Operations Coordinator.

“Joining the SDZ was my chance to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people with perspectives different from my own. Being part of the community has really supported my personal growth and it's now very fulfilling to get to help others on their journeys.”
Dr. Koivisto
DR. Bryan Koivisto

Professors join in

Scientists are the SDZ’s sounding board for new ideas: assessing their scientific validity and troubleshooting technically. The draw for these professors? In the words of Dr. Koivisto:

“Community, Community, Community! In exchange for our time and technical expertise, we meet innovative students who are often recruited into our labs, or inspire new trajectories for our research programs with public-private partnerships. With my journey in the SDZ, I’ve learned an enormous amount about startup culture, and what it takes to succeed in the business of science and deep tech.”

Industry partners: Win-win

Companies, consultants and entrepreneurs serve as mentors, speakers and collaborators. They supply expertise in science-specific product development, supply chain management, marketing strategy and more, while students provide fresh talent and creative solutions for their business challenges.

"The mentorship opportunity was great to connect with the students and help them create great ideas."

— Marcela Correa Villada, Metrolinx Design Division

"[The Student Innovation Challenge] provided us new and fresh perspectives on a real business challenge."

— Nicole Bailey, Bitnobi Inc.

Start-up in motion:Biofect Innovations

Start-up in motion:
Biofect Innovations

Shortly before the pandemic, two molecular science PhD students and one alumnus joined the SDZ, eager to use science for real-world impact. By 2022, despite the challenges of lockdown, they’d founded Biofect Innovations, a


business to business

biomanufacturing start-up.

On the science-business interface:

The product: sustainable, high-value, protein ingredients — structurally and functionally equivalent to proteins found in nature.

Target market: food industry companies that make cruelty-free, eco-conscious food products.

The science: combining synthetic biology with fermentation technology to create unique protein-producing microbes.

Progress & successes:

  • First Canadian firm ever chosen to join world-renowned food-tech incubator ProVeg International in Germany
  • Industry-validated prototypes now available to prospective clients
  • Represented Canada on the world stage winning ProVeg audience choice award for best pitch out of seven competing startups
  • Currently raising seed money to scale up to commercial-level production
“Scientists have a lot to offer as entrepreneurs. The scientific method is all about designing experiments, testing hypotheses, and learning from results — in many ways, equivalent to the design-build-test-learn cycle that’s central to business. I’m passionate about both, and I believe they can work together to create something truly special. The SDZ was invaluable throughout our journey and we’re grateful for everything they’ve done for us.”

— Ralph Christian Delos Santos
CEO, Biofect Innovations
Molecular Science ’19 (PhD)