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Western students sponsored by Ontario Genomics & Forest City SynBio to launch startup

Ontario Genomics has awarded its inaugural Synthetic Biology Training Award to three Western University undergraduates. Along with sponsorship from Forest City SynBio, the funding will allow the students to participate in a summer-long biotechnology and business development training program while earning a salary.

Ontario Genomics created the new award to support women, visible minorities, and other equity-deserving groups working in science and engineering. Dr. Michael Dorrington, Advisor for Strategic Partnerships & Resource Development at Ontario Genomics, explains why. “Many undergraduates must work full-time over the summer to make ends meet, often choosing between their passions and making money. The Ontario Genomics Synthetic Biology Training Award allows students to do both while exploring research and entrepreneurship in the emerging bioeconomy.”

“Ontario Genomics is a strong advocate for multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral talent development to prepare the next generation of visionaries for the present and future jobs. Opportunities like BioExperience 2022 are critical to breaking down existing barriers in science and innovation for historically underrepresented groups,” says Dr. Bettina Hamelin, President & CEO of Ontario Genomics. “We are thrilled to partner with Forest City SynBio and Dr. Kaern to create these opportunities in biotechnology research and innovation.”

The award recipients will work with Forest City SynBio, a biotechnology startup accelerator founded by two Western alumni, while participating in a skills development program called the BioExperience Research and Entrepreneurship Challenge. “The students will participate in our pre-accelerator program and work in our lab to develop technology that will make the world more sustainable,” says Samir Hamadache, co-founder & CEO of FCSB. “Our company gives founders and startups access to the training, facilities, networks, and capital they need to succeed. The BioExperience program is a great opportunity for the students to acquire the technical skills and the business know-how to launch a biotech startup of their own.”

Kierra Holowachuk, an award recipient and Western engineering and business student, explains that the award gives her the financial freedom to practice what she has learned theoretically in her courses. “It’s amazing to have an opportunity to work on something that is a mixture of my degrees and pursue my passion. I’m excited and truly appreciate the possibilities as a young woman entrepreneur that these funds will help create for my business.”


The BioExperience program was created in 2020 in response to COVID-19 lockdowns and organized by a non-profit organization, BioGroupe Canada. “Many undergraduates rely on paid summer internships and work-integrated placements to prepare for the job market or graduate school,” says Dr. Mads Kaern, Found and CEO of BioGroupe Canada. “The lockdowns left many students requiring financial support without a chance to develop critical career skills. We had to think creatively to offer an alternative path.” He has previously organized and mentored undergraduate teams participating in the international Genetically Engineering Machines (iGEM) competition. “I knew combining elements from medical education and the iGEM competition would be an effective alternative to conventional work-integrated learning during the pandemic. I am grateful I was given a chance to give it a shot.” 


More than 100 students have completed the BioExperience program, and almost all report having an outstanding learning experience. “I did not expect the program to be so successful,” says Dr. Kaern. “We developed it with limited resources during a time of crisis. Nonetheless, the student outcomes were superior to conventional work-integrated learning in many areas, including critical thinking, problem-solving, time management and communication.”

The partnerships with Ontario Genomics and Forest City SynBio are essential in making the program available to students at uOttawa and post-secondary students across Canada. This is because Ontario Genomics is already leading the creation of a national training program in synthetic biology, and BioTalent Canada is a strong advocate for creating and expanding post-secondary experiential and work-integrated learning programs. “The BioExperience program connects our industry and community partners to regional post-secondary talent and academic researchers and can work anywhere in Canada,” explains Dr. Kaern. “We have already had great success in supporting regional economic development. The new awards program from Ontario Genomics is a key milestone towards a national talent and skills development program in biotechnology and entrepreneurship.”


About Ontario Genomics

Established in 2000, Ontario Genomics is a not-for-profit organization leading the application of genomics-based solutions to drive economic growth, improved quality of life, and global leadership for Ontario. As part of its strategic vision, Ontario Genomics supports the development of educational resources that demonstrate how genomics plays a vital role in addressing critical challenges in our society. Ontario Genomics also plays a role in advancing genomics projects and programs across the province by supporting the development of proposals, helping researchers access diverse funding sources, and finding the right industry partners to take this research out of the lab to apply it to the world’s most pressing challenges. Since its inception, Ontario Genomics has raised more than $1.27 billion for genomics applied research in Ontario and directly supported more than 9,100 trainees and jobs. OG supports 110+ active projects and 500+ impactful partnerships and has secured $1.34 billion in follow-on investments.

For more information about OG, visit


About BioGroupe Canada

BioGroupe Canada is a federally registered Canadian non-profit organization created in 2021. Its purpose is to accelerate the development of the research and entrepreneurship talent needed to grow the Canadian bioeconconmy and to develop biology-based solutions to unsustainable manufacturing practices, environmental degradation, food insecurity and other existential challenges. The BioGroupe has no paid staff and is run by experienced professionals who volunteer their time to help Canadian talent realize their full potential and make Canada a world leader in BIOSTEM innovation. We are unconstrained by conventional boundaries but reside physically un-ceded Algonquin Anishinabe territory in downtown Ottawa.

For more information about BioGroupe Canada, visit

About Forest City SynBio

Forest City SynBio Inc. (“FCSB”) is Canada’s first private accelerator dedicated to startups using synthetic biology to innovate in the agri-food sector. Founded in 2021, the accelerator provides early-stage startups access to much-needed lab space, funding, mentorship, and networks of advisors and investors. FCSB is enabling everyday Canadians to become part-owners by investing as little as $100 in its equity crowdfunding campaign until June 30th.

For more information about Forest City SynBio, visit


List of contacts

Student Participants

Tareq Mareh
Kierra Holowachuk

BioGroupe Canada

Dr. Mads Kaern,

Founder and CEO


Ontario Genomics

Michael Dorrington, Ph.D.

Advisor, Strategic Partnerships & Resource Development


Forest City SynBio

Samir Hamadache

Co-founder & CEO

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