Although venture capital funding has risen in the past few years, women entrepreneurs have not reaped the benefits at the same pace as men − women-owned businesses currently receive only 2.8% of venture capital funding available worldwide, and an estimated 4% of VC funding in Canada.
Addressing the gender gap in technology and funding is just one of the many goals of Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a non-profit seed-stage program that connects deep science-based ventures with serial entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists to build vastly scalable companies.
“Our goal for the CDL Apprentice Program is to ignite greater gender diversity in STEM and we aim to create that pipeline through mentorship and a very structured program for early-stage deep tech-based companies,” said Sonia Sennik, the Executive Director of CDL, founded at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and now operational in 12 university sites across six countries.
Scotiabank has been a sponsor of CDL since September 2016 and this fall began supporting its Apprentice Program as their first founding partner.
“We are proud to renew our partnership with CDL and are particularly pleased to help expand CDL’s STEM apprentice program for young girls to more students across diverse regions,” said Michael Zerbs, Group Head, Technology & Operations at Scotiabank. “This unique program will help create opportunities for those interested in STEM who may not otherwise have had this exposure, and we look forward seeing our future STEM leaders in action.”
It's a mentorship first program. We are here to support the research that otherwise might get trapped in academic journals or in the development phase and help inventors to accelerate the commercialization of their ideas.
Sennik underscores that it’s not that there is a lack of ideas, a lack of capital, or a lack of effort among Canadian entrepreneurs, but that we need a better functioning market for what she calls entrepreneurial judgment. This is the fundamental thesis of the Creative Destruction Lab for early-stage, deep-tech ventures.
Students in the CDL Apprentice Program get the chance to observe a marketplace for judgment in action. Aiming to raise awareness of potential careers in STEM, business, and to help increase understanding of the commercial application and monetization of an idea, women students aged 14-18 also participate in educational modules featuring technologies such as AI, fintech, blockchain, health and energy with leaders as high profile as Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield.
The CDL program currently operates at 12 international university locations including five in Canada, and the funding will support program expansion from 300 to 500 participants while providing employment for a dedicated staff member to target recruitment at every school across Canada including those in more rural areas.
A selection of CDL Apprentice students are also invited to a global symposium for International Women’s Day in spring 2023 where they will meet world business leaders, leading scientists, engineers, economists, and start-up founders.
CDL’s core mandate is to merge the supply side of experienced entrepreneurs and the demand side of imaginative founders who have a great idea but may never have built a business before. The mentor community works with those entrepreneurs, meeting every eight weeks, to set three measurable, deliverable objectives.
“It’s a mentorship first program. We are here to support the research that otherwise might get trapped in academic journals or in the development phase and help inventors to accelerate the commercialization of their ideas,” says Sennik. The merging of these minds creates what Sennik describes as a natural friction where the founders learn from experienced mentors and the synergy of bringing together the two sides of the marketplace is what Sennik says is the key to success.
“These young entrepreneurs need to learn from someone who's gone through the process of taking an idea, building a company, scaling it, operating it and exiting it in some sort of liquidity event,” says Sennik.
But what does it really take to become excellent in your field? What does it really take to be brave enough to step out as an entrepreneur and try to build a business?
“We're hoping the CDL Apprentice students get exposure and an understanding of the type of work that's involved and how it's creative, it’s team based, it’s technical. And it's also about your commitment and determination on following through on clear objectives set by people who know the business.”