MaRS on Shaky Ground as Toronto Star Deepens Probe into Egregious Claims

MaRS Discovery District has once again come under fire for making bold claims it can’t seem to back up.

The Toronto-based, publicly funded organization says it has generated $3 billion in economic impact. Other claims include hosting more than 2,000 events per year and offering online entrepreneurship resources to over two million people.

But something is fishy, reports the Toronto Star, whose ongoing investigation into MaRS continues to expose chinks in the organization’s suspiciously shiny armor.

Quoth the Star:

Many of MaRS’ claims are confusing and embellished, and its secrecy is preventing the public and future entrepreneurs from learning its true track record.  . . .  “The $3-billion impact figure is based on analysis so flimsy that it wouldn’t pass the test of a Grade 10 science student, which is ironic for an institution charged with commercializing research by some of Canada’s top universities,” said Mark McQueen, CEO of Wellington Financial, a Toronto-based firm that provides debt to venture capital-backed innovation companies across North America.

The company has already received nearly $500 million of provincial funds since launching in 2005, much of which seems to pay well-salaried employees: more than one-third of MaRS’ employees earn six figures annually, according to the Star, including CEO Ilse Treurnicht, who rakes in a cool half-million dollars per year.

Initially MaRS credited its “$3 billion economic value” claim to accounting firm KPMG. But that credit was swiftly removed once the Star began probing. Now MaRS says the figure is aggregated from several studies across multiple professional firms, as well as “other measures”—but cannot back up its claim with actual evidence due to confidentiality agreements.

MaRS also tried to shrink away from another of its claims, the one about two million people using its resources. Now the organization says the figure is simply the amount of pageviews the resources have experienced—a much different, far less impressive metric—and told the Star the mishap was simply in error.

The Star reports that it was also unable to find evidence that MaRS hosts 2,000 events annually. MaRS says the number includes “stakeholder meetings, conferences, and workshops,” plus any events big or small put on by tenants and partners.

Read the newspaper’s full report, including interviews with startups who worked under MaRS, here.