Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), an early-stage program for science and tech-based startups based out of University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, will launch its second U.S.-based program, CDL-Wisconsin this fall. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, CDL-Wisconsin will be a partnership with American Family Insurance and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The nonprofit currently has eight similar locations in Canada, US, England and France.

CDL delivers an objectives-based program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based companies. CDL-Wisconsin will work with startups focused on risk management across society, launching a new CDL Risk stream. Over nine months, technical startup founders learn from the insights of experienced entrepreneurs, increasing their likelihood of success.

The partnership leverages academic expertise and knowledge in the top-ranked risk and insurance program at the Wisconsin School of Business and as well as the technical prowess and long tradition of departments in the School of Computing, Data and Information Sciences to seed tech entrepreneurship. With globally recognized reputations in risk and insurance, computer science and entrepreneurship, UW-Madison is an optimal home for CDL Risk. 

“The importance of UW-Madison supporting entrepreneurship in tech has never been greater,” says Tom Erickson, founding director of the School of Computing, Data and Information Sciences. “We are excited to partner with CDL and American Family to take advantage of our existing strengths including expertise in artificial intelligence and data science. This is an incredible opportunity for not just our students and faculty but the whole region.” 

As a founding partner, American Family is helping identify and select startups and will provide mentors and other resources during the program. This support is part of the company’s ongoing partnership with UW-Madison, which includes The American Family Insurance Data Science institute, theendowed chair of the institute, and the American Family Insurance Distinguished Chair in Risk Management and Insurance.

“Now, more than ever, we can see why entrepreneurship and advancements in data science and technology applied to risk management is critical to the insurance industry and society in general,” said Bill Westrate, American Family Insurance president. “Our involvement with these innovative startups in the very early stages will provide invaluable insights for us, and established resources to help them succeed.”

Experienced entrepreneurs who have founded, led, and sold significant tech companies, along with world-leading scientists, engineers, and economists will serve as mentors to participating startups, while UW-Madison students and faculty will have an opportunity to apply their expertise and learning to advance risk-based ventures. 

“CDL has developed a proven process for helping companies cut through distractions and focus on what’s most important – with a global network working towards our mission to accelerate the commercialization of science for the betterment of humankind,” says Sonia Sennik, Executive Director of Creative Destruction Lab. “We are thrilled to both welcome UW-Madison to the CDL family as our newest site, CDL-Wisconsin, and to announce the launch of CDL Risk in partnership with American Family Insurance.”

The collaboration accelerates an already robust regional entrepreneurship ecosystem, following a successful model of public-private partnerships.

“This innovative partnership is another way UW-Madison helps to create jobs and grow the economy,” said Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy, Albert O. Nicholas Dean of the Wisconsin School of Business. “In leveraging the university’s robust strengths in risk management, insurance, entrepreneurship, and technology, this initiative will spur economic development in an area that is ripe for growth.”


CDL Risk’s mission is to transform society’s ability to manage risk. This mission includes a wide variety of subject matter; ranging from prediction and measurement of hail storm damage to prevention of cyber attacks. The focus will be on how organizations identify, assess and manage risk, including elements of the insurance value chain, yet extending far beyond. Ventures with innovative software applications, AI/ML (or any form of machine intelligence) and data solutions, intelligent process automation are only a few examples of technology that can help society transform its ability to manage risk; and ventures who should apply.

The Risk Stream is particularly suited to coachable, early-stage research teams and startups; however, startups at all levels of maturity will be considered. Example innovation areas include:

  • New sources and uses of data to drive improvement in decision making; including drone and satellite imagery
  • Proactive Sensors, Alerts, or Wearables and IoT to improve safety and loss prevention
  • Real-time geographic data combined with machine intelligence to guide decision making
  • Workflow automation leveraging machine intelligence
  • Core software applications
  • Catastrophe modeling
  • Advanced driver safety systems
  • Innovative risk transfer techniques including methods that draw new parties into assuming risk
  • New and enhanced distribution channels

Applications for CDL Risk at CDL-Wisconsin are now open at creativedestructionlab.com/apply. Selected ventures will begin the nine-month CDL program in October 2020. To learn more about CDL Risk, please contact [email protected].