There’s an undeniable buzz in the air each time Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) entrepreneurs, mentors and team members get together.
This time was no exception ― over four days in October, CDL-Toronto kicked off its landmark startup mentorship program at the Rotman School of Management, bringing together 128 promising tech startups and 175 mentors in-person for the first time since 2019.
The CDL celebrates 10 years at the Rotman School of Management.
CDL was founded at the Rotman School in 2012 as a seed-stage program for massively scalable, science and technology-based companies. Over the last decade, the program has expanded to 12 locations globally, from Vancouver to Seattle to Berlin. Over 6,500 founders representing more than 2,300 companies have participated in the CDL program, with CDL alumni companies creating over CAD$24 billion in equity value.
“The companies that are admitted to CDL are doing something extremely compelling on the technical side, but they often need support on the business side,” said Ajay Agrawal, CDL’s founder and academic director. He’s the Geoffrey Taber Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and a professor of strategic management at the Rotman School.
“By the time a founder graduates from CDL, their company should be at the caliber that they’re able to attract financing from multiple investors that lead to oversubscribed rounds.”
This year’s session in Toronto brought together ventures and mentors from eight CDL streams: Artificial Intelligence, Biomedical Engineering, Blockchain, Matter, Neuro, Prime, Quantum and Space. One by one, the founders took to the stage to receive feedback from a panel of mentors and workshop their business ideas in real-time. CDL mentors are world-renowned experts in their fields, including Rotman faculty members across different areas, accomplished entrepreneurs, industry leaders and active investors.
Chris Hadfield during a CDL event at Rotman.
“The depth, volunteerism and quality of mentors across all our streams is what distinguishes CDL from other groups trying to do similar things,” said Chris Hadfield at the recent Toronto session. Taking his decades of experience as an astronaut, fighter pilot and engineer, Hadfield serves as a mentor for CDL Space, supporting startup companies who are applying artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies to explore commercial opportunities related to space.
And it’s not just startup founders who lean into the wealth of expertise at CDL. Every year, students from across the Rotman School work closely with early-stage tech startups accepted into the CDL program. Through the CDL Introductory course, students gain hands-on entrepreneurial experience developing financial models, evaluating potential markets and fine-tuning strategies for scaling.
“The CDL experience was the missing puzzle piece that completed my business school experience,” said Jennifer Sanasie, a Global Executive MBA ’20 graduate who broke into the startup space coming from a background in media and entertainment.
This year's CDL ventures have just begun their journey. In December 2022, the founders who were selected by a mentor for continued support will return to Rotman to present their progress and upcoming plans for their business.
“The current macro-economic environment is forcing all companies to return to the basics of profitability. In doing so, large enterprises are becoming more receptive than ever to experimenting with new technologies that enhance their productivity,” said Agrawal.
“Although the capital markets are tight ― which makes it difficult for startups to raise money ― this will be a golden age for innovation and CDL is focused on supporting the entrepreneurs who will contribute to this flourishing of new ideas that will make society more productive, efficient and less wasteful.”