The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) hosted more than 100 of the most promising science-based startups at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. On June 6 and 7, this event brought together the entire CDL network for the first time, including Fellows and Associates, Scientists, investors, venture capitalists, MBA students and graduating CDL ventures.
The CDL program graduated over 120 high potential start-ups in 2017/18. The program consists of five sessions designed to hone founders’ business judgment by immersing them in a community of accomplished entrepreneurs, experienced operators and active angel and venture investors. Sessions are built around one-on-one meetings with mentors to discuss progress and challenges, followed by group meetings focused on finalizing measurable, deliverable two-month objectives. Through this process, founders receive peer-reviewed advice based on diverse experience. They also have a powerful incentive to demonstrate performance – Fellows and Associates select which ventures they would like to continue to work with at the conclusion of each CDL session day – aside from the opportunity to seek investment.
Here’s what participants of the nine-month program had to say about their experience:
Solid State AI, CDL-Toronto
Solid State AI was founded in 2017, specializing in extracting meaning from very little or noisy data. The company uses a SaaS platform to help manufacturers improve yield and perform predictive maintenance on their equipment.
“There are amazing VCs and experienced entrepreneurs [part of the CDL program] that give you advice that you just can’t get in your everyday MBA classroom,” said Robin Gainer, a Rotman MBA student who joined the company. “People were not only giving us advice but putting their reputation on the line to help us get customers — that made a huge difference.”
The caliber of CDL’s participating ventures enhanced the experience for Gainer. That’s also what made Super Session an inspiring experience for the team at Solid State — seeing companies like theirs make meaningful progress. “You leave feeling pumped up and excited and feeling like the problems that you are working on are tractable,” said Gainer.
Harbr provides mobile tools for construction and land development companies to track real-time progress of projects and compare it against their construction schedule.
Dave Kim and Jeff Kielbratowski started the company in 2015 and were able to raise a round of investment very early on in the CDL program. That allowed the duo to focus on their go-to-market strategy, which is what Kim says sets CDL apart from other organizations that support startups. Prior to joining the CDL, Kim says, “we thought we had a very crisp idea of who our customer was.” But it turned out they were wrong — their user wouldn’t be general contractors as they imagined, but property management companies.
That demonstrated the value of the CDL program for Kim: mentorship that pushed him and his partner to continually refine ideas about their business. As part of the first cohort to graduate from CDL-Atlantic, they’re excited to see how the CDL will continue to support the start-up ecosystem in Eastern Canada.
CTO.ai provides technology products to software engineering teams that can be used to build software products within their own companies.
For founder Kyle Campbell, the biggest benefit of being part of the program was having access to the caliber of mentorship the CDL provides. That in conjunction with the program’s eight-week sprints made it very valuable and accessible as a solo founder. Having time in between sessions made it possible for Campbell to digest the feedback and see how he could apply it to his business.
“I’m very hands on at this stage of my business,” explained Campbell. “It was actually really nice to get together every eight weeks and catch all the people that you really need to talk to.”
ReWatt Power, CDL-Rockies
ReWatt helps independent power producers to be more profitable by reducing transaction costs and simplifying once complex and manual processes.
“Our challenge has always been: How do we take a fairly complicated industry and make accessible for investors who aren’t from that space?” said co-founder Prageet Nibber.
She says they had fantastic mentors who met with them weekly to help simplify their message.
“A lot of their advice has been around storytelling and coaching, [to help us figure out] what will resonate with our customers as well as our potential investors.” That advice helped ReWatt close their first round of funding.
Being part of the CDL program and seeing it culminate in the Super Session brought home this message to Nibber: “Tech and innovation is alive and well in Canada.”
Optina Diagnostics, CDL-Montréal
Optina Diagnostics has developed specialized hardware and proprietary AI software that enables a simple eye scan to detect key biomarkers of cognitive diseases, with an initial focus on Alzheimer’s disease. Joining the program not only helped the company focus on quality management and regulatory aspects of the business, it also helped them raise $4M in seed financing.
“CDL definitely has a much larger pool of investors and much more interaction [with them],” said founder David Lapointe. He was particularly impressed by how engaged mentors were, evidenced by the quality of questions and feedback. The support and endorsement of CDL Fellow Dr. T. Chen Fong was crucial for them, with the amount of experience the Dr. Fong has in the field.
Coming to Super Session affirmed what Dr. Chen Fong demonstrated throughout the program for Lapointe: “There are people who believe in your company and will support you.”
Watch the presentations from CDL Alumni ventures at Super Session here!
The CDL is a seed-stage program for massively scalable, science-based companies. Its nine-month program pairs founders with experienced entrepreneurs and investors to set focused, measurable objectives with the goal of maximizing equity-value creation. Since its inception in 2012, companies that have participated in the CDL programs have created $2.5 billion (CDN) in equity value. CDL Alumni include Thalmic Labs (Waterloo), Atomwise (San Francisco), Deep Genomics (Toronto), Nymi (Toronto), Automat (Montreal), Kyndi (Palo Alto), and Heuritech (Paris).