“Today, as we head into the home stretch of our ninth year of operations, it’s invigorating to witness the energy, enthusiasm, and innovation – it’s as strong today as when we began.” – Ajay Agrawal, Founder, Creative Destruction Lab
To Our CDL Family,
In September 2012, we admitted our first cohort of startups into the Creative Destruction Lab. Today, as we head into the home stretch of our ninth year of operations, it’s invigorating to witness the energy, enthusiasm, and innovation – it’s as strong today as when we began.
When we started, we set a goal of facilitating $50M of equity value creation over five years. While this might seem modest today, most viewed it as a stretch goal given the paucity of technology commercialization success stories from Toronto at that time. Thus, in 2012 we would have never imagined that we would exceed $12B in equity value created by 2021 and, as I write this letter, witness three CDL companies from the 2016 AI stream each raise over $100M in each of the past three weeks (Ada, Tenstorrent, Xanadu).
Nor would we have imagined that we would be celebrating such successful inaugural years at three new sites – CDL-Paris at HEC Paris, CDL-Atlanta at Georgia Tech, and CDL-Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Also, we could not have guessed that we would be welcoming the 10th site to join the network, CDL-Seattle at the University of Washington, with a focus on computational health.
We would have never imagined that we would one day be launching an emergency pandemic Recovery stream in the summer off cycle and a new spin-out, not-for-profit organization, the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium, that has now enlisted approximately 150 workplace sites from coast-to-coast for a disciplined rapid antigen screening program and is on track for 300 by the end of summer.
Nor would we have ever guessed that we would one day build a fully online platform to enable the entire program to operate on a global scale, virtually. While we are proud of what we accomplished under challenging circumstances, we are under no false illusions that this did not come at a considerable cost. And so, as I take stock of the past year, I offer a note of gratitude to our mentors, founders, corporate partners, founding partners, and staff.
To our mentors – Fellows, Associates, Scientists, Economists, Investigators – you are heros. On behalf of all the entrepreneurs whom you mentored, I offer you my thanks. While Zoom was fun back in April 2020, we fully realize that the novelty quickly wore off and the long sessions online required significant energy and concentration – without the reward of socializing with your peers during coffee breaks, lunches, and dinners. Not only did your commitment help the entrepreneurs focus their efforts on the right things to increase their chances of success, your words of encouragement were even more impactful than usual during this period of isolation and stress that was exceptionally high due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic.
To our founders in the program and alum, I congratulate you on your perseverance and commitment to mission success for your companies. A common characterization of entrepreneurship is “the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Each of you has demonstrated “relentless pursuit” under especially tough circumstances. We look forward to the days when you can once again freely meet face-to-face with your customers, partners, mentors, investors, and most of all, your own employees. We will all appreciate the joys of working together after being restricted from doing so for such an extended time.
To our Partners, we thank you for your continued commitment to the Creative Destruction Lab. We work hard to help you effectively utilize your relationship with CDL to future-proof your business. We fully recognize that many of your businesses suffered during the pandemic. As a significant fraction of our revenue comes from you, we were braced for our own financial uncertainty. We are incredibly grateful that not a single Partner pulled back from their relationship with CDL during the pandemic. We’ll do our best to continue to provide your organizations with an engaging connection to the future so that the return on your investment in CDL remains a good one.
To our founding partners, we could not have done it without you. When we decided in late March of last year to swing into action with an emergency pandemic response program, we could do it because of your support. A year later, when the Canadian federal government provided funding to the new not-for-profit, CDL Rapid Screening Consortium, to scale across the country – they did so because the pilot had been so successful. That was an easy decision for the government because it had been de-risked by you through your support of the pilot project. Almost every site in the network is set to expand this fall, in the wake of worldwide lockdowns earlier this year, and that is all enabled by you. So, thank you for your leadership, generosity, and commitment to a better future.
Finally, to our CDL team – Oxford, Paris, Atlanta, Wisconsin, Vancouver, Rockies, Toronto, Montreal, Atlantic and Global – thank you. While I can imagine what things might have been like for our mentors, our founders, and our corporate partners, I know what they have been like for you. When we realized we needed a fully functional portal to enable global online access, you built it. When we learned that we needed a set of new operating procedures for virtual sessions, you created it. When we discovered our community needed additional encouragement and emotional support, you provided it. When we were told that we could not launch three new sites without anyone being able to travel and train new local staff in person, you accomplished it. When we fretted over whether we would still be able to deliver on our mission – to enhance the commercialization of science for the betterment of humankind – you delivered on it. I am proud of many aspects of CDL, but none more than you. Well done. And thank you.
Founder, Creative Destruction Lab
Professor, University of Toronto
It continues to be an incredible honour to work alongside our 150-person Creative Destruction Lab team. We achieved many never-been-dones this year solely because of the way our team showed up for each other—with dedication, curiosity, and enthusiasm.
The last year has been filled with questions. Beyond “when might the pandemic end?,” it has presented questions like “where should I invest my time?,” “what risk is worth taking?,” and “what is my purpose?” At a time where everything feels so unpredictable and unsettled, there’s this strong sense of urgency—important projects need to happen now.
For Creative Destruction Lab, this meant that our team worked harder and faster than ever before. We launched CDL Recovery less than a month after the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and, with it, compressed the traditional CDL program structure into twice the cadence. Our CDL team grew globally, and supported each other to launch three new sites (CDL-Paris, CDL-Atlanta, and CDL-Wisconsin—in record time) and six new specialty streams (Ag, Climate, Commerce, Matter, Oceans, and Risk), and we scaled within our existing sites. In August 2020, we brought together 12 of Canada’s leading companies to innovate together and build a solution to safely reopen the economy as part of the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium. The program has since resulted in more than 200,000 rapid antigen screens deployed in organizations across Canada, and averted thousands of potential secondary infections.
For me, this meant that I took action on an idea that I have carried with me since my engineering undergrad: a fund to make space for a wider variety of people to study engineering. So I called McMaster University and started the Sonia Sennik Resilience Fund, an annual scholarship for a student who has shown grit and strength of character in their life—whether that’s at school, at home, on the athletic field, or in their creative pursuits. Without my knowledge, Ajay wrote to CDL community members expressing his personal support for the Sonia Sennik Resilience Fund. This single email resulted in contributions from over 40 CDL mentors, partners, and colleagues, increasing the scholarship sevenfold and transforming it into the largest multi-donor endowment in McMaster Engineering history.
I had planned to spend every year of my life funding the scholarship alone, because that’s how I learned to be resilient. The generosity and support of the CDL community meant that I—and the scholarship recipients for decades to come—can draw on something even bigger, amplifying what is possible by orders of magnitude. This is the essence of the CDL Family: it is a commitment of people to each other’s vision and ambition. It is a foundation to build something massive—and something that can last longer, and reach further, than we might have dared to hope.
Thank you feels insufficient to express my gratitude to each of you for choosing to invest your time with us at Creative Destruction Lab this year.
Wishing you a safe and healthy summer,
Executive Director, Creative Destruction Lab
Executive Director, CDL Rapid Screening Consortium