Innovation grows at Western Research Parks

One of Western Research Parks’ three campuses - Discovery Park in London,
One of Western Research Parks’ three campuses - Discovery Park in London, Ont. - with Western University in the distance. (Submitted)
If you’ve had a stent put in during heart surgery, there’s a good chance it was tested by PolyAnalytik , a company headquartered at Western Research Parks.

The business analyzes and improves products and technologies used in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, as well as the agriculture, biotechnology and cleantech industries, helping clients advance toward regulatory approvals.

Ahad Al-Hakim

"Our mission is to work on novel technologies to advance the health and safety of the world," said Ahad Al-Hakim, BSc’12, managing director of sales and operations.

"We do very niche science to address global problems, from solving medical challenges and creating innovative therapeutic formulations to working with agrifood additives and polymer resins in the oil and gas and petroleum industries."

Founded and led by Western graduates, PolyAnalytik is one of 53 businesses at Western Research Parks, an innovation hub full of new and flourishing companies.

"Being within an arm’s reach of academic researchers at Western creates this opportunity for us to continue to innovate," Al-Hakim said. 

Gailene Tobin Vandenheuvel

The proximity to major research capacity at Western gives entrepreneurs and business leaders a wealth of opportunities, said Gailene Tobin Vandenheuvel, executive director of Western Research Parks, which span two campuses in London and one in Sarnia.

She’s been working to execute a renewed vision since she was hired in 2021. With a PhD in cellular immunology and a background that marries science and business acumen, Tobin Vandenheuvel is uniquely poised to understand the needs of companies locating at Western Research Parks.

"We are an integral part of London’s emerging innovation district. Together, with our partners, we provide a strong foundation for the creation of start-ups and continued support for growing companies," she said.

’Cool research, niche services’ 

PolyAnalytik sees immense value that comes from calling Western Research Parks home.

They offer 156 acres of space for innovation between Western Discovery Park, just north of the university, Western Advanced Manufacturing Park along Highway 401 and Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park in Sarnia.

PolyAnalytik is anchored at Discovery Park , despite doing less than 10 per cent of its business in Canada.

When founder Amer Ebied, MESc’04, first started the company, it shared a single worktable with another firm.

Slowly, PolyAnalytik grew to two tables, then took over a lab, recalled Ahmad Romeh, BESc’08, MESc’14, managing director of product development and research and development. He was the first hire.

Shared resources, from meeting rooms to the autoclave - which uses steam to disinfect instruments - made Discovery Park even more appealing for a small company in its early days.

Amenities and activities at Western Research Parks are still a boon, from advanced research opportunities to lectures to weekly walks that help create a healthy environment for PolyAnalytik employees, Al-Hakim said.

Now the company has expanded inside the Stiller Centre, a building within Discovery Park, filling three labs and three office suites.

Ahmad Romeh

"We’re mostly material scientists trying to do niche research. We provide services to make products better or get them to market faster. We also find cool ideas where we can spend more time creating our own products," Romeh said.

That includes specialized offerings to meet needs in its target fields, such as filtration kits to purify drugs. PolyAnalytik’s purification of those products helps companies cut down on the cost.

"Keeping that innovation in mind, this is what we do. This is what Canada is good at - the creative mindset," Al-Hakim said.

Western Research Parks provide the perfect place to harness talent, creativity and ingenuity.

"Connections, collaboration and innovation are at the forefront," she said.

Opening doors to companies, community

Dozens of companies choose to locate at Western Research Parks’ two London, Ont. campuses. They employ 732 workers and contribute an estimated $55 million to the London, Ont. community every year.

Tobin Vandenheuvel is on a mission to maintain a high occupancy rate by consistently replacing graduating companies and engaging existing ones with unique initiatives.

A partnership with London Community Artists has brought local artwork to the walls of the Convergence Centre. Brightly coloured paintings, available for anyone to purchase, bring warmth and vibrancy to the space. The displays showcasing local talent change every three months.

It’s just one of many homey touches to drive connections and belonging.

The Black Walnut Bakery Café , a popular London bakery, opened its third location in the Convergence Centre at 999 Collip Circle in January 2023.

Lucas McHugh serves up lattes and other treats at the Black Walnut Bakery Cafe in Western Research Parks. (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications)

A new speaker series is bringing experts from Western and beyond to speak about economic development. The Connector Sessions , run in partnership with the London Economic Development Corporation , provide learning and networking opportunities for academics, entrepreneurs and community members.

Discovery Landing is the newest addition to Western Research Parks’ offerings, providing a shared space for companies who want to experience the location and its potential before committing to a longer-term home. 

"It’s a true landing place. It gives local, national or international companies or partners the chance to explore the benefits of London’s entrepreneurial community and engage collaborators prior to making a long-term commitment," Tobin Vandenheuvel said.

Discovery Landing allows businesses to integrate into London’s entrepreneurial community and offers a wealth of benefits, including short-term shared spaces, amenities, state-of-the-art meeting rooms and networking opportunities.

Nurturing innovation

Matt Grossi, CEO of Orca Intelligence , located his business in Western Research Parks after launching the company with his brother during their time in university. Grossi, BMOS’14, was part of the

Orca audits shipping routes, working with clients moving billions worth of goods every year.

Poring over invoices, Orca finds efficiencies and opportunities for savings.

Matt Grossi

The company recently took the leap to its next space - a downtown London, Ont. office - but Grossi reflected on the foundation provided by Western Research Parks.

"There’s a community. I met a lot of people who helped with our business. All the pieces you need are here in a tech ecosystem," Grossi said.

"The power is in the collaboration."

Orca has grown significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic, adding 80 per cent of its staff in the last two years and expanding to a team of 25 employees with a need for a bigger, central location.

From bocce tournaments to networking events, meeting people was the biggest benefit of the many years growing the business at Discovery Park.

"They’re just building a different type of culture," Grossi said.

Fostering community is a priority for Tobin Vandenheuvel.

"The environment has to be inviting, warm, friendly. Your clients have to know they’re the No. 1 focus." - Gailene Tobin Vandenheuvel, executive director of Western Research Parks

That means tailoring amenities to their preferences, fostering community with charitable efforts and fun activities like yoga classes, even adding new spaces for connection like the Black Walnut Bakery Café location.

Networking and casual events have been orchestrated not just across Discovery Park, but for individual buildings so closer connections can be fostered between direct neighbours.

"We have been working with the Research Parks community to bring everyone together," Tobin Vandenheuvel said. "We also collaborate closely with London’s innovation community to foster unity."

Tobin Vandenheuvel also founded the London Life Sciences Working Group, representing more than 22 partners from academia, industry, local municipalities and local hospitals. The members are focused on addressing barriers to growth and tackling priority issues in the life sciences sector. She now co-chairs that group with leaders from the London Economic Development Corporation and TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario.

Partners within Western Research Parks say all the efforts to drive connection and collaboration are paying off.

"The renewed vision is making a difference and creating impact for the businesses here. It’s resonating and bringing back even more opportunities," Al-Hakim said.

She hopes seeing successful companies at Western Research Parks will inspire the next generation of student researchers, too.

"We want to entice them to think beyond the 9-to-5 job and be creative in their path. We are all Western graduates, creating that legacy of entrepreneurship through innovation in science and technology," Al-Hakim said.

"We hope students will be inspired and won’t overlook smaller companies in London. They are creating global impact in our region, putting London and Western Research Parks on the map."