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Deep Ties and Connections to UW–Madison Bolster Creative Destruction Lab Launch in Wisconsin

By Betsy Lundgren and Suzanne Swift

February 3, 2021

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has long been recognized as a leading driver of economic development in the Midwest and beyond. A new partnership with the Creative Destruction Lab positions UW to further spur innovation from high-potential, technology-driven startups.

Creative Destruction Lab logo

Last summer the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) partnered with UW–Madison and Madison-headquartered American Family Insurance to open CDL-Wisconsin and develop the CDL Risk program. CDL-Wisconsin is only the second U.S. location for CDL.

CDL-Wisconsin, along with all of CDL’s nine locations worldwide, delivers mentoring for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based startups. CDL focuses on creating entrepreneurial hubs that leverage university innovation, industry networks, and enterprising spirit in communities that are ripe for business growth—all qualities that make Madison an ideal location.

The CDL Risk program supports and mentors companies that transform society’s ability to manage risk.

“Entrepreneurs play an important role in reshaping how corporations and society navigate risk and uncertainty,” says Professor Joan Schmit, who holds the endowed American Family Insurance Distinguished Chair in Risk Management and Insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business and serves as a program lead for CDL Risk. “The startups involved in this program represent next-generation thinking that will advance this industry and deliver innovative solutions to many types of risk.”

The inaugural CDL Risk program at Wisconsin considered 142 companies and accepted twenty high-potential startups to begin in November 2020. Fifteen companies continued on and met on January 22 for the second of five day-long objectives-based mentoring sessions. During these mentoring sessions, a combination of one-on-one and larger groups of mentors provided feedback to each company to focus their priorities for the eight weeks between each session. Objectives in these sessions may include developing sales strategies, acquiring customers or investors, refining the science behind the company, or growing the team.

UW–Madison expertise central to CDL-Wisconsin

The success of CDL-Wisconsin relies heavily on the experience and expertise of faculty, alumni, and entrepreneurs with strong ties to UW–Madison.

Three UW faculty members lead the program: Schmit; Jignesh Patel, professor in the Computer Sciences Department; and Tom Erickson, founding director of the School of Computer, Data and Information Science.

“UW–Madison, with its deep knowledge and resources in technology and innovation, is an ideal home for CDL-Wisconsin,” says Patel. “This program represents significant opportunity for economic growth and startup acceleration. It’s a great way to deliver on our promise to the state as captured in the Wisconsin Idea.”

Two additional professors—Daniel Bauer and Justin Sydnor of the Department of Risk and Insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business—provide scientific expertise to the startups participating in CDL Risk.

UW–Madison alumni engaged as mentors include Pavan Nigam (MS ’82), co-founder of WebMD and Inspovation Ventures; Greg Tracy (MS ’02), co-founder of Propeller Health; Dan Reich (BS ’08), co-founder of Spinback, Troops, and TULA Health; Kyle Nakatsuji (MBA ’11, JD ’12), founder & CEO of Clearcover; and Kristen Berman (BBA ’06), co-founder of Irrational Labs and Common Cents Lab.

In addition, 21 UW–Madison students enrolled in the entrepreneurship certificate program are providing hands-on business support to the ventures by helping to develop financial models, evaluate potential markets, and fine-tune strategies for scaling.

“The education component of this program allows our students to go behind the curtains to see how startups are born,” adds Schmit.

Program finds fitting home in regional hub for technology and innovation

The location of CDL Risk in Madison and the strong involvement of many experts with ties to the university give a strong nod to the region’s ever-growing recognition as a hub for technology and innovation.

CDL-Wisconsin is exploring additional programs beyond risk, acknowledging the state’s leadership in health care, agriculture, and other industries positioned for continued growth. Like CDL Risk, new Wisconsin programs will leverage the technical and entrepreneurial expertise of UW–Madison and the surrounding area.

As the partnership between CDL, UW–Madison, and American Family Insurance evolves, it will continue to capture economic development opportunity, reinforcing the region’s status as an entrepreneurial hub and bolstering startup companies poised to change the future.