CALL OF THE ROCKIES
BY TREVOR BACQUE • PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE DESTRUCTION LAB
Agricultural tech entrepreneurs need look no further than Alberta to morph their hot concept into a tangible business. This is the aim of Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) Rockies and its new Ag Stream at the University of Calgary.
Its first 20-participant intake began this past November and runs nine months. The program will provide those hungry to start companies with real life mentors who will help them push their ideas to their greatest potential. According to CDL Rockies, launching the Ag Stream was all about finding more ways to bring regional business ideas to life in areas such as ag-tech.
“We are really looking to support our local ecosystem,” said Anita Ludwar, Ag Stream manager. She said these entrepreneurs often find themselves working and learning alongside mentors from multinational companies, which is very helpful for those starting out.
Participating individuals and companies are encouraged to be at the pre-seed or seed stage. By starting at this level, their ideas are yet malleable and may be shifted and shaped. With such flexibility, mentors can help these young people succeed past what they first thought possible.
“They get peer-reviewed advice from the mentor group,” said Ludwar, adding it is often an uncomfortable experience, but certainly makes for a better business in the end. “We have them basically discuss what the venture needs to be focused on. It can really help refine what makes sense for the entrepreneur.”
One key task entrepreneurs perform is to determine their top three objectives. In doing so, they stay laser focused, which is important in the beginning stages of any tech startup.
With five chapters across Canada, the Calgary location is the only one that features an agriculturally focused hub. Additional Canadian locations are situated in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and focus on health, artificial intelligence, supply chain, blockchain and more.
The CDL was founded in 2012 by Ajay Agrawal, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The impetus to not only incubate bright ideas, but move them into the real world, came from Agrawal’s belief that while there is innovation everywhere, there is not enough ability to commercialize one of a kind concepts in the same fashion as successful tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York City or Boston. CDL Rockies launched in 2017 and has created 100 local jobs in startups to date through its two other streams focused on energy and general ventures. Incoming Ag Stream entrepreneurs will be closely linked to the university’s Haskayne School of Business’ MBA program. Its graduate students will work directly with Ag Stream participants as part of their course work.
Beyond the business school, one of the key partners of the Ag Stream is Nutrien. The company’s involvement is invaluable given the size and scope of its business. The fertilizer giant is eager to have representation within the Ag Stream because it believes accelerated innovation is mandatory for the vitality of the agriculture sector.
“Partnerships like the one between CDL and Nutrien will help drive the creation of new technologies and solutions to support these complementary outcomes in Canada and throughout the world,” said Mark Thompson, the company’s executive vice-president, chief corporate development and strategy officer. “We strongly believe that more innovators and more collaboration will benefit growers and provide new and forward-looking ways to drive farm profitability and productivity, more sustainably.”
The Ag Stream’s first cohort is set to graduate from the incubator in July. For more information, visit creativedestructionlab.com/streams/ag.