The Rotman-affiliated Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), which runs seed-stage funding programs for science and technology companies, has recently announced its newest funding program, which is called the Neuro Stream. For the first cycle of the Neuro Stream, the CDL plans to accept an inaugural cohort of 20 startups working in industries such as neuroscience-related pharmaceuticals, treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, technology that monitors patients’ nervous systems, and collaborative technologies that work on connecting the brain and external devices.
The CDL has 10 global locations which host a total of 16 funding streams, covering topics such as artificial intelligence, the blockchain, and outer space, but the Neuro Stream is based at its Toronto location. The Neuro Stream is best suited to growth ventures and pre-incorporation projects, explained Valerie Chiykowski, associate director of CDL Toronto in an email to The Varsity, but startups at all stages of development are eligible to apply.
Four innovation areas
The CDL drew up a map of current research in the field of neurology through conversation with neurotechnology experts including Shivon Zilis, director of operations and special projects in the office of the CEO for Neuralink; Mike Tymianski, CEO of Nono Inc. and professor of neurosurgery at U of T; and Michelle Chernock, head of Neuroscience Medical for Novartis Canada. From this map, the group selected four areas of potential innovation: drug discovery and pharmaceuticals, neuromodulation, neuromonitoring and data utility, and brain-computer interfaces.
The area of drug discovery and pharmaceuticals includes companies focusing on improvements in mental health and general brain-related health. Neuromodulation refers to the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Neuromonitoring and data utility is an area that includes companies which seek to collect and use data retrieved from observing brain activity. Finally, brain-computer interfaces are technologies that read brain impulses and can support damaged motor, cognitive, and sensory functions.
Inside CDL Neuro
Delivered over a term of nine months, the seed-stage business incubator will lead neuroscience ventures from any of the established four innovation areas to grow their business through mentorship from successful entrepreneurs. The CDL’s mentorship program will consist of two components.
The first component involves highly structured ‘Session Day’ events that will occur every eight weeks. Founders will attend small group meetings where they will rotate between mentors who will provide them with feedback. Following the end of these rotations, the mentors’ feedback will be consolidated in a large moderated discussion in which founders can then refine their objectives. In the following eight weeks, founders will work to execute these objectives.
The second part of the mentorship program consists of four-hour unstructured mentorship sessions that might include advisory meetings, facilitated introductions, pitch presentations, and more.
The CDL’s major function is to provide the founders of new ventures with mentorship from experts in the field. Instead of investing or taking equity in these ventures directly, the CDL instead connects them with external financial opportunities, which have in the past included funding from corporate capital funds. The CDL often introduces ventures to these financial opportunities.
During Session Days, venture founders may receive constructive criticism and useful advice that they could use to pivot their market or business models by mentors who have first-hand experience in their field. They are, therefore, expected to take advantage of the limited time they have with the industry experts mentoring them. The best way to do this, writes Chiykowski, is to have an understanding of each mentor’s career background and their specialised experience.
Chiykowski’s advice for aspiring venture founders is twofold: be prepared and open-minded. “Being open minded to new ideas for your business can lead to growth and development opportunities that may not have been otherwise possible without perspective from CDL mentors,” she wrote.