Rachel Taylor remembers one particular experience from her time at Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) vividly. She was an MBA student at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, assigned by CDL to work with participating venture SBQuantum.
“There was one six-week period where we had to have done like 50 customer discovery interviews,” she said. “I would be found all over the place, sitting in corridors between classes, jumping on another call, just pushing, pushing, pushing to have done all this customer discovery.”
She said the process was “really useful” for the company, and also taught her about the importance of customer discovery and talking to people. Taylor then joined the venture as co-founder and COO.
She said that embedding with the company through CDL gave her a complete understanding of what her job would be and how to work with her team members.
“It’s an opportunity to live the role.”
CDL is a nonprofit organization that delivers an objectives-based program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based companies. Its nine-month program allows founders to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, increasing their likelihood of success.
CDL also matches MBA students with ventures enrolled in the program. Students get an immersive, first-hand experience in the startup ecosystem and contribute to key business development projects. Ventures get hands-on help during the crucial period of commercialization.
Taylor and other former MBA students at participating CDL business schools in Toronto, Atlanta, Halifax, Calgary, Oxford and Montreal, say the program provides practical hands-on learning that perfectly complements the academic work of an MBA or PhD.
Amir Hejri, a fifth-year PhD student in chemical engineering at Georgia Tech, says CDL pushed him to step outside his comfort zone as a “science nerd” and develop new business skills. He’s completed his time with CDL, but continues to work with venture, Oxford Immune Algorithmics as a biomedical consultant.
“It’s one thing to know the background and fundamentals, but then it’s another thing to actually do it,” Hejri said.
“Seeing what it really takes and how much work and effort goes into translating something from lab to market … It’s just priceless.”
Ben Slang, a MBA student who says the chance to work with CDL factored into his choice to attend Dalhousie University, learned about the persistence it takes to get a business off the ground.
“It was really awesome to be able to step away from the traditional academic setting and do your own research. You start to see that there’s not always direct, easy answers to some of these questions. There’s going to be roadblocks, there’s going to be regulatory issues that stop some progress, and you’ve got to collect yourself and start again.”
One entrepreneur in Calgary says CDL taught him to be more focused and results-oriented.
“It was one thing to get my experience through the MBA program to understand it all. But it was just so intriguing to me to actually be able to witness that firsthand,” said Haitham Mansour.
“If you’re looking for an opportunity to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and actual practice, CDL is the perfect platform.”
Mansour has also joined the company he worked with at CDL, Nanotess, as its business lead.
The timing was perfect for Lily Elsner, who did a one-year MBA that included work with CDL-Oxford venture Arctoris. Elsner is now the company’s head of strategy.
“I was glad that I was asked to do that after I had taken some of the initial MBA classes, especially given that it was just a one-year program, because I was able to think about it in a lot of different ways, and use some of the things I’d learned in class,” Elsner said.
She even wrote papers about Arctoris for school because she’d already done so much research for the company as their CDL partner.
“You have this really interesting marriage of study and practice in such an intentional way.”
Students also say that the networks they’re exposed to at CDL are helpful after graduating and moving into new roles.
Rahel Haile, who’s now an associate principal at BDC Capital’s Growth Venture Co-Investment Fund, said she already knew who was who in the VC ecosystem thanks to her time at CDL-Montreal.
“That was really helpful.”