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MaRS taps Toronto serial entrepreneur as CEO

Ontario’s MaRS Discovery District has named Toronto-based technology entrepreneur Yung Wu as its new chief executive officer.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's MaRS Discovery District has hired a new CEO after a year-long search, naming Toronto-based technology entrepreneur Yung Wu to the top post in an announcement Thursday morning.

"I think it was a ballsy move by the board," said Mr. Wu, a self-described serial entrepreneur who is also on the Ryerson DMZ advisory board. "We're all about founders and entrepreneurs, that's what I have been doing most of my professional career."

Mr. Wu says that MaRS, as the largest innovation hub in Canada in terms of physical size (1.5 million square feet), houses several "unicorn class" startups with the "the right DNA to shoot the lights out on a global stage." He says he sees his primary role as helping the hub focus on commercialization of those startups, who occupy about 50 per cent of site's office space.

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Mr. Wu replaces Ilse Treurnicht, who was CEO for 12 years, and announced in June, 2016, that she would step down once a replacement was named. Initially the new CEO was to be in place in July, but Ms. Treurnicht extended her service. Mr. Wu says the search team first approached him earlier in the year; he officially takes the reins on Nov. 1, 2017.

MaRS board of directors chairman Gord Nixon issued a statement that the board remains grateful to Ms. Treurnicht for her "vision, leadership and unwavering commitment to the organization over the years."

In recent years, MaRS, legally a charitable organization, had been dogged by funding issues after a partnership with a U.S.-based property developer to build a second office tower on the site fell apart and about $400-million in provincial taxpayer money was lent to the organization to finish construction. In early 2017, Mars paid back the taxpayer loans, taking on 290-million in debt, in the form of 19-year bonds.

MaRS also announced in 2017 it has now fully rented the site's office space to such tenants as AirBnB, Autodesk and Facebook, though as of 2015 rents represented only 26 per cent of MaRS revenue, the bulk – 44 per cent – came from government grants to administer innovation programs.

Mr. Wu is best known for founding enterprise software business Castek Software, sold in 2007, mobile games company Fuse Powered, sold in 2016, and Antibe Therapeutics, a biotech and medical equipment company he remains invested in.

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