Surrey's Innovation Boulevard gains momentum

Groundbreaking initiative spurs unprecedented demand from tech companies

Lark Group president Larry Fisher (right) and vice-president Kirk Fisher: “we believe this [Innovation Boulevard] initiative will spur a lot of business”

Surrey's ambitious plan to create a medical hub – a network connecting businesses with health institutions and universities – has taken off like a "bullet train," according to the neuroscientist who's driving it.

Dr. Ryan D'Arcy, co-chairman of Mayor Dianne Watts' Health Technology Working Group, said there's been unprecedented demand from medical businesses ranging from multinational medical technology companies to new spinoffs looking to set up shop in the fast-changing city. He declined to disclose names until the deals are finalized.

"[Since] January we haven't been able to keep up with the business sector demand," said D'Arcy.

The city's Innovation Boulevard concept was unveiled just over a year ago and seeks to leverage its location – one square mile in the city centre between Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Surrey Memorial Hospital – and homegrown medical talent to establish a life sciences version of Silicon Valley.

Surrey Memorial is the busiest specialized care hospital in the region, and its half-billion-dollar expansion is the largest health infrastructure investment in B.C.'s history.

The area is also home to the Fraser Health Authority, has the new Jim Pattison Surgery and Outpatient Centre close by, and also boasts the University of British Columbia's teaching hospital, which will become a clinical academic campus next year.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is also developing a proposal for a regional centre there.

"We're hoping to create a space there, adjacent to other research spaces, where we can go in with teams of faculty – multi-disciplinary teams – where we can look at specific solutions to specific problems for patients," said KPU president and vice-chancellor, Alan Davis.

"We're really interested in using technology to make life easier and better and safer."

D'Arcy, SFU's BC Leadership Chair in Multimodal Technology for Healthcare Innovation, said there are more than 180 health service businesses, ranging from physicians to testing laboratories, along Innovation Boulevard.

"[There's] a tremendous amount of raw ingredients sitting within that one square mile," he said.

"If you're in the medical tech or health technology business, what you really need to be competitive is that you need to be able to have access to hospitals with busy clinicians and patients, you need to be able to get your products into that. You need access to smart, innovative people who can refine your prototypes or give you ideas."

D'Arcy said the city's "absolute partnership involvement" in building the vision is what makes Innovation Boulevard different from a Silicon Valley model. The name, he said, refers to the "merging of innovative, smart people with smart development."

D'Arcy added that local developers were at the table from the outset and were very forward thinking in their planning.

They include the Lark Group, which is developing the 12-storey City Centre Professional Building across from the hospital, after buying up residential properties over the past eight years.

The company built the first of its two care facilities in the area and is now developing its $200 million office building, which will consist of 180,000 square feet of space in phase 1, mainly for medical use, and the same inphase 2. The third phase will offer 130,000 square feet.

"The construction on phase one is 70% complete. We have leases and sales signed to 70%, and we have offers on 100%," said Kirk Fisher, the group's vice-president.

The building is the first of its size in Surrey city centre to offer both purchased or leased office strata space.

"We believe this [Innovation Boulevard] initiative will spur a lot of business; we've already seen a lot of people contacting us or reaching out to the area because of the great idea and support from the City of Surrey, from Fraser Health," said Fisher.

"What we hope and believe is that large tech companies are going to come to this area when they see there is political and health-care support so that they can be interacting and using their product on patients immediately." •