Creating Atlantic Canada's Next Entrepreneurial Superstars

HALIFAX, NS-Canada’s top startup accelerator has joined forces with Dalhousie to launch a new branch of the program in Atlantic Canada — one that will help promising ventures transition into high-growth companies.

Dal’s Rowe School of Business will serve as the hub for the Atlantic offshoot of Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a program based at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Like the Toronto program, CDL-Atlantic will provide startups with access to a powerful network of accomplished entrepreneurs and investors through a nine-month, milestone-based mentoring program.

Mentors in the program in the past have included the founders of WIND Mobile, Kik, Kobo, as well as companies that have sold to tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon.

CDL has proven to be incredibly effective in helping young companies strengthen and expand their ventures through exposure to expert guidance and pivotal investment opportunities. Since launching in Toronto in 2012, CDL companies have generated more than $1-billion in equity value. An offshoot launched earlier this year in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia has added to that success.

"We are thrilled to join such a strong network of universities and business schools,” says Sylvain Charlebois, dean of Dal’s Faculty of Management. “Knowledge sharing is so critical to an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Our economy will reap significant benefits from this partnership.”

Expanding success nationally


Halifax-based Volta Labs CEO Jesse Rodgers, who was the founding director of the Rotman CDL program and will now serve as a regional leader in CDL-Atlantic, says Dal is a natural partner on the program.

“It’s the top research school in Atlantic Canada, and throw in the massive investments into oceans research happening there and it makes so much sense,” he says. “It’s seems like the timing is right and the location is right.”

In addition to a general stream, Dalhousie will have a specialty program for ocean, clean and agri-food technology companies.  By collaborating with Dal and other partners in the region such as the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), CDL-Atlantic will help leverage the unique strengths in the region and spur the commercialization of more ocean, clean technology and agriculture research.

As part of the program, Dal MBA students can take a CDL course on technology driven high-growth company creation and have an opportunity to work with the participating startups and mentors.

“CDL-Atlantic will allow our students at the Rowe School of Business to gain valuable knowledge and real-world experience with innovation-driven companies, and to see the business judgement and leadership of top entrepreneurs and mentors,” said Dr. Charlebois.

CDL-Atlantic will draw on mentors from Toronto, Boston, New York — as well as some regional entrepreneurial leaders such as seafood and telecom baron John Risley and serial entrepreneur Jevon MacDonald.

MacDonald, who has served as a fellow for the Rotman program and has built companies in Toronto, Austin, Silicon Valley and Halifax, says he is thrilled to be joining CDL-Atlantic in the same capacity.

“I’m passionate about building our startup community in Atlantic Canada, which is greatly out-performing on a per capita basis,” he says. “This new partnership is an exciting step towards showing the world what we have to offer, namely, the talent and ambition to build global scale technology companies.”

MacDonald has helped catalyze the startup ecosystem in the Atlantic region over the years, co-founding Volta Labs, investing in and mentoring local entrepreneurs and supporting key initiatives in schools.

Setting ventures apart


Ventures in the CDL program work closely with mentors to set measurable targets that they must reach each eight weeks during the program. Should the startups fail to meet those targets, they risk being asked to leave the program.

“It’s one of the most valuable programs out there, but it’s also one of the toughest,” says Mark Hobbs, co-founder and CEO of Fundmetric, a data-driven fundraising startup currently finishing up the Rotman program. His company has been through several different accelerator programs since its launch in 2013.

Hobbs, who got involved in entrepreneurship as a student at Dal, says CDL has been hugely valuable for his company, which now counts Saint John’s University in New York City and the United Church of Canada among its clients.

“We were able to get a group of mentors who could see patterns before we could and put us on the trajectory to make us more successful,” he says.

Fundmetric is more investor-ready now, too, says Hobbs.

“We were able to find answer to certain questions, which has allowed us to put together some projections,” says Hobbs, “and that has allowed us to approach venture capital firms and get some offers on the table.”

CDL-Atlantic is expected to launch in January 2018.