Kepler Communications isn’t a household name…not yet, at least. In 2015, it was just an idea. Three years later, it had launched its first satellite into space. The same could be said for Atomwise, an AI tech firm that simulates molecules to speed up drug discovery. Last year, the company raised $45 million dollars in Series A funding – and now partners with biotech and pharmaceutical leaders.
What do these firms have in common? They are both alumni of the Creative Destruction Lab, or CDL for short.
CDL CAPITALIZES ON MONTREAL’S AI ECOSYSTEM
Some people think of CDL as an accelerator. In reality, it is so much more. Founded in 2012, the lab is a mentoring-heavy, milestone-driven seed stage program, which is geared towards science-based companies with the potential to scale. A Canadian creation, CDL is hosted in research universities in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Halifax – even expanding to New York City in 2018. In a nutshell, the lab is a space for entrepreneurs, researchers, and investors to intersect, where fledgling firms can pull technical expertise and go-to-market strategies needed to commercialize their visions.
The Creative Destruction Lab has been an unquestioned success thus far, creating over $1.5 billion dollars in equity value. In Quebec, the lab is centered at HEC Montréal. Here, selected firms capitalize on the region’s rich ecosystem for artificial intelligence (AI) and data sciences applications, says Louis Hébert, MBA program director at HEC Montréal.
“Hot on the heels Montréal’s emergence as a significant hub for AI, including a significant $50-million-dollar investment in IVADO, the Creative Destruction Lab represents how in tune HEC Montréal is with today’s economic environment, not to mention its association with Scale AI supercluster and NextAI, an AI accelerator.”
FRENCHMAN TAKES REINS OVER ICONIC CANADIAN WINE BRAND
This access to entrepreneurs and experts – and the learning opportunities available through the CDL – was one reason why HEC Montréal has become an increasingly popular destination for MBA students. “Being a part of this program, assisting startups with their growth, and leveraging the knowledge gained so far is so valuable,” says Shweta Dubey, a sales manager who joins HEC Montréal’s Class of 2019 from India. “Also, the exposure to meet different startups and understand their approach is a one-of-its-kind experience combined with exponential growth opportunity.”
Better yet, adds Megan McNeil, HEC Montréal MBAs are engaged in far more than being passive observers at the CDL. “As MBA students we are involved in the selection process and the mentorship of the selected companies. I view this as an excellent opportunity to have a tangible, practical touch point in such a fast-moving industry as AI.”
McNeil is just one of the 102 members of the full-time MBA class who are looking to switch careers, push their boundaries, or make an impact during the 2018-2019 school year. It is a class who come from every geography and industry imaginable. Take Benoit Giroussens, who hails from Bordeaux – the wine-making capital of France (if not the world). After earning a bachelor’s in Chemistry and a national master degree in Oenology, Giroussens took the reins at a legendary Canadian brand.
“At just 26 years of age and as a foreign national, I was selected to become the manager and person responsible for the wine-making process at the Osoyoos Larose Winery Estate in British Columbia. Together my team and I successfully cultivated the beautiful land and developed one of Canada’s most iconic wines.”
A CLASS OF COMMUNICATORS
Giroussens isn’t the only class member shouldering big responsibilities early in his career. In Australia, Brandon Jacobs worked as a senior adviser to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Resources, where he helped produce a policy that privatized electricity networks in New South Wales (including Sydney). Similarly, Jean-Francois Lefort, a native of nearby Ormstown, served as a policy advisor to the President of the Treasury Board of Canada.
“Knowing that whatever recommendations I made would have a very tangible (and very expensive) impact was a sobering thought,” he explains. “This meant that I had to very quickly adapt and grow in the role.”
The Class of 2019 is also steeped in the art of persuasion. Sagar Gupta was the youngest sales rep to ever beat 120% of quota. By his second year at Hermès Paris, Tristan Boisvert was the company’s top sales performer, topping peers who’d spent decades at the company. At the same time, Zack Spencer earned a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center, which he put to work to serve the underprivileged.
“I am most proud of my pro bono work successfully representing a number of refugees in their applications for asylum before the United States immigration authorities,” he says.
A “RIDICULOUSLY MOTIVATED” CLASS
Outside class, the Class of 2019 is soccer-crazed, to say the least. Caroline Dussault, an employment lawyer by trade, played competitive soccer until she was 26. In contrast, Benoit Giroussens spent a decade as a soccer referee, culminating in a slot at the French Championship. And Brandon Jacobs was such a big Chelsea FC fan that he moved to London after graduation to work at the stadium!
Those are great stories, but they hardly compare to Jean-Francois Lefort. He got lost at sea…in Antarctica. Prisca Agneroh knew she belonged in finance when she was six – and hit her mother up for interest after she borrowed coins from her. And let’s just say Yannick Klein defies any easy label. “I am pretty sure that I am the first veterinarian MBA student who comes from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada who is passionate about paragliding!”
What sets the Class of 2019 apart? Brandon Jacobs calls them “ridiculously motivated,” the kind of classmates who push him to keep up. At the same time, says Jessica Drolet, they are “collaborative,” often putting together workshops for classmates to help them master various subjects. By the same token, Drolet was also struck by just how diverse the class is, a sentiment reflected in the 19 languages spoken by MBA students. Most of all, the class is encouraging, says Tristan Boisvert, fostering a community where everyone comes together to bring out each other’s best.
“Ever since we started together, never have I ever felt so supported, trusted and appreciated in an academic environment; that is why my classmates are the most precious asset of my MBA.”