In 2016, Mayor Don Iveson announced the Health City initiative, a venture designed to increase access to capital for the local health sector, and to grow and commercialize new technologies and products. To date, more than 70 public, private and philanthropic contributors have banded together to bring Health City to life.
One of the founding inspirations for Health City is a life-saving technology that was developed in Edmonton: iTraumaCare’s iTClamp™.
“The iTClamp is a small mechanical clip that seals the skin closed over a bleeding wound to trap the blood inside. The back pressure of the bleeding creates stasis and forms a clot to temporize your bleeding until you get to the hospital. Each clip seals 2” of wound length,” explains Dennis Filips, iTClamp creator, chief medical officer, general surgeon and trauma surgeon.
“I’m retired from the military. I did 20 years as a trauma surgeon, training medics in the field and teaching them lifesaving skills, including how to stop bleeding,” Filips continues. “With the tools we had, we couldn’t stop bleeding very quickly. I came up with an idea to take the advanced suturing skills I use in an operating room and put [the ability] in the hands of the lay user and have them accomplish the same things within a couple of seconds.” Thus, iTClamp was born – but the idea was the only easy part. Getting this technology realized was a whole different matter.
Filips joined forces with a friend from university that was into product development, and together, they launched iTraumaCare®.
“We went through a whole lot of iterations of devices until we found one that worked just right to stop arterial bleeding anywhere in the body,” smiles Filips, “but it was a new idea and we were met with a lot of resistance.
“We applied for a lot of government grants. All of them were turned down because they figured the device wouldn’t work as advertised, but we were very persistent. We didn’t take any salaries ourselves for a long time. We persisted in pushing it until we got funding for product development, and it took off from there – but we were self-funded for a very long time.”
The company was started in Edmonton, but it had to branch out to where the investors were. Today, ITraumaCare is split between Canada and the US.
“I think that Edmonton has resources in place to help companies get started, and I think one of the critical paths moving forward is helping companies that are getting started to carry along the path to commercialization,” Filips points out. “That requires having institutional investors, venture capitalists, angel investors – people who are used to investing in the health care space. Most of the investors in Edmonton were not used to health care, but were used to investing in the energy sector. That was one of our barriers. If Health City [was in place when we started], it would have allowed us to move faster and stay centralized within the city. I think we could have grown faster and more efficiently.”
He is thankful and humbled to have been one of the inspirations for Don Iveson’s Health City initiative.
“That’s certainly flattering! I think he is a very progressive mayor, and I certainly return compliments to him as well!”
Another very strong proponent of Health City is no stranger to community improvement and development initiates. Dr. Jodi L. Abbott, the president and CEO of NorQuest College, was handpicked by Mayor Iveson to chair the Health City Steering Committee.
“Health City is about creating the most fertile ecosystem for industries to do business in Edmonton,” says Dr. Abbott. “It’s about creating the opportunity for companies that are in the innovation space to do business in Edmonton. It’s about economic development.”
She sees the initiative as another win for the Capital City.
“I think Edmonton has a lot of assets in this area in terms of an incredible university and great intellectual capacity. I think we have incredible potential for these startup organizations to build, grow and attract more financial investment into our city, as well as to create jobs for individuals in the healthcare sector.
“I also think the timing is really, really good. We have had an interest in individuals who are working in this space, from government officials to private individuals. What has happened through Health City is that all of this has coalesced and come together. Never before have I seen people coming together, rolling up their sleeves, and working together like this. There is incredible synergy.”
The timing of Health City is indeed fortuitous, as Edmonton seeks to diversity its energy sector personality and branch into other industries. Could healthcare be Edmonton’s next big break?
“The steering committee and the 200-300 at the summit believe this is possible,” confirms Dr. Abbott. “We have 300 working in Edmonton in this sphere, and we need to grow. We need to track investments into this area, and for our products and services that are being developed, we need to break over the edge and move forward. There is great opportunity here, and we are seeing it in companies like the clinics that have now partnered with Microsoft to take their products further. We are starting to see this happen and the momentum grow.”
NorQuest College is proud to be part of the health care revolution in Edmonton.
“Our role as an educator is very important because we are training people for the front line. As technology shapes how services and programs are delivered, our graduates need to be prepared for that; not just in learning about tech of the future and how it will influence the system, but also to be on the edge so when they leave, they are actually already trained in the tech of the future.”
Dr. Abbott is excited about the future Health City will bring, as should be everyone in Edmonton. The possibilities are limitless.
“One thing that has been really important to the initiative is the tremendous number of people that have come together to make this happen, be it a large company like Telus, a small or medium-sized company, citizens or the Government of Alberta. All have come together to participate on a volunteer basis. It is that momentum and commitment that will continue to move Health City forward,” she concludes.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of initiatives over the years, and this one has been amazing. When you see people from all parts of the system with different agendas come together to coalesce on something that can help every one of those organizations, and that can help the overall economic system for Edmonton, it really is quite remarkable.”