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The road to "building something massive"

Posted by Andrew Church on December 6, 2017 in News
Inaugural interview session for the Creative Destruction Lab–Atlantic

Sleepless nights. Painstaking preparation. Sweaty palms. Throw in some nerves and adrenaline and you’re ready to go. It’s interview day.

I’ve had my fair share of interviews, but on this particular day it wasn’t me in the hot seat. Instead, I was a guest at the inaugural interview session for the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL)–Atlantic, an objectives-based mentoring program designed for seed-stage science companies with massively scalable potential. It all went down on November 3 in the McInnes Room at Dalhousie University.

So what is CDL? I had the same question. Founded in Toronto at the Rotman School of Management in 2012, CDL brings together the most innovative science-based companies and high-level business leaders with the aim of producing the next great venture. It works like this: companies are selected by CDL to attend an interview session before an expert panel that includes scientists, economists, CDL staff and MBA students. Of the 53 short-listed companies, 25 are chosen from the interview process to participate in the first full-day, intensive session with entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture fund capitalists (known as Fellows and Associates). Companies deemed scalable by the Fellows and Associates will receive mentoring and a specific set of objectives to meet between sessions, which occur at eight-week intervals over a seven-month period. At each session, the progress of the companies will be assessed, and those with the most consistent track record in meeting their objectives will continue on in the program. Companies that make it to the end of the fifth session will have a strong chance of receiving funding.

I could feel the buzz in the room. With that much intellectual and creative capital under one roof it’s hard not to. I was so impressed with the people I met and the projects they had been working on so diligently. From ventures in camera-recognition software, energy storage to green power and ocean research technology, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of innovative talent that exists in Atlantic Canada. I also saw what an important role the MBA students from the Rowe School of Business play in CDL–Atlantic, starting with observing the interview process and progressing to a hands-on supportive role with companies continuing through the program.

Gillian McCrae is a venture manager for CDL–Atlantic. “In Atlantic Canada, CDL is curating world-class business judgment through Fellows and Associates,” she says. “Typically, these individuals have been successful at starting a company. Providing their business judgment to these early founders is extremely important in helping them prioritize objectives.”

McCrae points out some important characteristics companies need to be successful in the program. “We look for team dynamics, expertise, coachability, disruptive and new technology—things that can’t be easily duplicated or replicated. And, obviously, solving a big problem that has the opportunity to be massively scalable.”

At the end of interview day my mind is full and my curiosity is piqued. I’ve also had a lot of coffee. I’m intrigued to know which companies will make the cut and begin the first full-length session with the Fellows and Associates on December 7.

Pictured left: Jeff Larsen, Executive Director of Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, Dalhousie University

Having been such a success in Toronto, CDL has since expanded to Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax. CDL has strategically partnered with top-level research and business institutions to provide the best technological and human resources possible to assist in the growth of these early-stage companies. In Halifax, CDL–Atlantic has partnered with Dalhousie University and the Rowe School of Business. The MBA students from the business school have a crucial support role for companies that make it through the selection process and wish to utilize the students’ training and keen business sense.