On Canada Day – Celebrating the CDL: A Critical Canadian Initiative

With Joseph Rotman at the Creative Destruction Lab
With Joseph Rotman at the Creative Destruction Lab


Joseph Rotman invested a great deal to improve the future of this country. The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto is a lasting legacy showing both his commitment and what we as Canadians are capable of achieving. An important part of  that legacy is the CDL which is really just getting started.

It is both enlightening and alarming to discover that more than 350,000 Canadians live and work in Silicon Valley. More than one percent of our population and a much higher portion of our intellectual capital have left us for the world’s most prestigious and most productive ecosystem. This is both a problem and an opportunity but not one that government can solve or even try to solve. So how do we stem the tide? There is no quick fix. We are producing world class talent and such talent is inevitably attracted to the epicentre of success, achievement but most of all opportunity. It is the opportunity that we need to focus on. The Creative Destruction Lab does that. It creates opportunity here in Canada. The leader and founder Professor Ajay Agrawal is a dynamo.

Ajay is living evidence that entrepreneurship can be taught, an academic with the drive and mindset that can match anyone in the business community. When he approached the Rotman school to start this program he was told ‘you can use the facilities but you must find the funding yourself’. He has worked relentlessly ever since  to do just that in the process bringing in a very accomplished group of proven entrepreneurs to act as mentors. The stated goal of the Lab is to generate equity – specifically to create at least $ 1 billion in equity in the first ten years. After the first two years approximately $ 130 million has been achieved.

Financial targets are how we keep score but the greater purpose is to keep the best and most brilliant we produce here in Canada, helping to build our own world class ecosystem and offering a valuable example to others. Ventures receive the very best of mentorship. It is amazing to see how they evolve in less than one year. Watch for results – they have already started but many significant ones are ahead in the years to come.

As a partner of the Lab and member of the advisory board I am proud to point out that this program is not just another accelerator to help brilliant tech students bring their ideas to market. For me the Lab represents far more and has the opportunity to change and influence this country. We are traditionally small ‘c’ conservatives who let our brash cousins to the south take the outrageous risks and create the startling successes. We don’t lack for success stories but too often those successes happen outside our borders. Now when we are in an era where entrepreneurship is viewed as what I like to call the economic wonder drug of the 21st century, it is absolutely critical that Canadians embrace the mindset of an entrepreneur and become agents of change in a world where ironically change is the one constant. In that sense the Lab can be a leader and help change the narrative for Canada.

For me the Lab has three main purposes. The first as already outlined is to produce successful, scalable ventures flourishing as sustainable businesses right here. The second very unique goal and  achievement  of the Lab stems from the way in which students of the Rotman MBA program are engaged with the ventures and the  mentors. We need these talented business minds creating new businesses and making them succeed in Canada. The Lab immerses them in the startup culture and introduces the potential for success outside the world of investment banking. In this new era of entrepreneurship when every university and college around the world is trying to teach entrepreneurship this may be the most effective way any of these institutions has found to date.

The third and potentially greatest influence of the CDL program is as an example of what can be accomplished in Canada. We are building a pyramid of success. The ventures that go through the full program will be shining examples at the top of that pyramid. But there are many other levels of success below these which can be achieved and make an important contribution to our economy and our society. Not every success story relies on innovation. The potential multiplier of the Lab comes from encouraging all Canadians, at every level to adopt the mindset  that we can make things happen here and to apply innovation to a whole myriad of business solutions and applications. These potential ventures will be the foundation of the pyramid we hope to build and can have rippling effects across our economy for generations to come.

This is exactly what Joseph Rotman hoped to accomplish and thanks to him, it is a real possibility when we sorely need it.

With Joseph Rotman at the Creative Destruction Lab

With Joseph Rotman at the Creative Destruction Lab

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