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Industry Innovation Agenda seeks solutions to real estate challenges

Industry Innovation + Transformation Council pushes for new ideas, experimentation and sharing best practices

George Carras, founder and CEO of R-Labs. (Courtesy R-Labs)
George Carras, founder and CEO of R-LABS. (Courtesy R-LABS)

The Industry Innovation + Transformation Council, comprised of 12 Canadian real estate industry leaders convened by R-LABS, has issued what it calls its 2024 Industry Innovation Agenda (IIA) to address challenges facing the sector.

The IIA identifies the most pressing issues and the underlying bottlenecks stifling innovative solutions. Among the top priorities are housing affordability, housing supply and climate resiliency.

R-LABS was established in 2018 as a partnership of corporations, institutions, industry organizations and entrepreneurs to build and grow companies that solve problems in real estate and housing. Founder and chief executive officer George Carras used a March 26 event at the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s headquarters to reinforce the need for collaboration and taking leadership to accomplish these goals.

“By having leaders and organizations being willing to try new things, and being willing to share their experience and best practices with others, we can build innovation in this space — not from the top up by the chief innovation fellows, but rather from the people on the ground who can actually see what's going on,” said Mike Moffat, the founding director of PLACE Centre and an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

Moffat has conducted policy research on the nexus between regional economic development, innovation, housing and climate policy. 

He outlined five areas where the IIA recommends Canada’s real estate sector needs to take immediate action:

  • leadership and institutions;
  • affordability and supply;
  • climate resiliency and low carbon;
  • optimization;
  • and capital, labour and supporting infrastructure.

Collaboration is essential

Improving innovation across the sector will require a collaborative effort from key players to process changes in public and private procurement, skills development, regulation, funding and collaboration.

“We need to figure out how to get new technologies and innovations to scale, and that's going to require research support from industry, government and higher education,” Moffat said, “and developers and builders have to be willing to try these new technologies, new methods and new ways of doing things.”

The Innovation Pledges initiative encourages stakeholders from the private sector, government and not-for-profit organizations to pledge to engage in small-scale experimentation that can scale, and to share the outcomes of their innovations.

As part of this, R-LABS plans to invest approximately $1 million in early-stage startups focused on solving the key problems facing the real estate industry.

Critical Industrial Technologies Initiative

The Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) is a non-profit organization that brings industry, academic and government partners together to invest in collaborative research and development, technology development, and commercialization opportunities that generate the highest return on innovation.

The Government of Ontario and the OCI used the March 26 event to launch another new program, the Critical Industrial Technologies Initiative (CIT).

It aims to integrate critical technologies — including 5G, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, cybersecurity and quantum — to propel Ontario’s key sectors to increase their global competitiveness.

Construction is one of the four sectors targeted by the CIT, which has launched a challenge to help Ontario reach its goal of building at least 1.5 million homes by 2031.

Potential solutions could include the automated manufacturing of prefab housing or improvements through on-site tools, new products or automation technologies that significantly accelerate the building process.

Up to $1 million in funding is available for these projects, which can have a maximum duration of up to a year.

OCI president and CEO Claudia Krywiak and OCI vice-president of strategic initiatives Raed Kadri spoke about the CIT and its benefits in person while Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli made a statement on the program via video.

“We aim to empower Ontario-based companies to develop and integrate critical technologies into their operations, fostering innovation and competitiveness,” said Kadri. 

“Recognizing the importance of a skilled workforce, the CIT initiative will provide opportunities for up-skilling, re-skilling and ensuring that Ontario remains at the forefront of technological advancements.”

Views from industry leaders

Following the announcements, Carras invited Canada Green Building Council CEO Thomas Mueller, Real Property Association of Canada (REALPAC) CEO Michael Brooks and OCI assistant vice-president of strategic initiatives Philippa King to share their thoughts on the new initiatives.

“It is about forming those clusters and building that ecosystem and saying, ‘We will succeed and we will have a significant impact if we do it as a village, together,’ ” King said. 

“We have a lot of capacity and we have a lot of depth in Ontario, but it's very fragmented and we need to bring that together.”
“If you have a good process, there's a really good chance you'll have a good outcome,” said Brooks, who believes the IIA has the former and can achieve the latter. “You talk to people and you get a different perspective, so the collaboration piece and that continual learning piece is critical.”

Mueller said the development industry is excellent at replication, bringing down costs and delivering product, and those strengths need to be applied to creating affordable housing and sustainability.

“What we’re really after is quality construction that’s responsive to the environment and responsive to people and that will provide long-term returns for the owners of those buildings,” said Mueller.

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