New accelerator in Seattle: Creative Destruction Lab to launch ‘deep tech’ startup hub with Microsoft, UW

Emer Dooley (left), a faculty fellow at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, helped establish a Seattle hub for the Creative Destruction Lab. The program will start in November at the UW. (UW Photo)

The news: Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a nonprofit that runs nine startup accelerators across the world, is coming to Seattle. It will host a 9-month program this November for 20-to-25 companies in partnership with Microsoft and the University of Washington’s business, engineering, and computer science schools. The initial focus for the accelerator will be the burgeoning sector of computational health, or the intersection of healthcare and software, two strengths of Seattle’s tech ecosystem.

Why it matters: There are a flurry of accelerators and incubators in the Seattle region, but CDL-Seattle is unique in a few ways. It does not take equity as the program is funded by founding members such as Microsoft and the UW. It also enforces objective-based milestones and checkpoints; if a company is not meeting certain standards, they are booted out. There is also an educational component, as UW students will have a chance to “shadow” the program and learn from the participating startups.

How it came together: Last year UW launched its first Innovation Roundtable to help brainstorm ideas to further the university’s innovation strategies. Emer Dooley, an instructor at the UW business school, and Bill McAleer, managing director at Voyager Capital, were part of a group tasked with finding an accelerator to run at the UW.

“This really creates an opportunity to bring some of the leading areas of technology development in our region into an incubator that we think has a proven track record in other cities,” McAleer said.

Computational health: Seattle has emerged as a global hub for companies that are combining software such as machine learning and AI with healthcare. Examples range from UW spinouts Parse Biosciences and PvP Biologics, to larger publicly-traded companies including Adaptive Biotechnologies and Accolade.

CDL-Seattle aims to be a conduit between health and engineering experts, and also draw from the region’s tech leaders to act as mentors. Dooley pointed to entrepreneurs including Nautilus Biotechnology co-founder Sujal Patel and Accolade CEO Raj Singh as technologists who previously took software companies public (Patel with Isilon Systems; Singh with Concur) and are now leading computational health firms.

“This is the track,” Dooley said. “CDL-Seattle will make it easier for traditional tech people to put their toe in the water for this area that Seattle is really going to make a mark in.”

The UW’s Foster School of Business. (UW Photo)

Latest innovation effort at UW: CDL-Seattle will be based at the UW’s Foster School of Business. Any entrepreneur will be able to participate, not just those affiliated with the UW, though most companies are expected to be Washington-based.

“We literally will be crawling the halls to get postdocs and graduate students to come be part of it, to really understand how you take that first step [in starting a company],” Dooley said.

The UW has been a key part of the larger Seattle tech ecosystem, helping provide tech talent to local companies and sprouting startups such as Turi, a UW spinout that was acquired by Apple for $200 million in 2016 and helped grow the tech giant’s presence in the region.

Dooley said CDL-Seattle compliments the UW’s other innovation-related efforts such as CoMotion, which helps UW-affiliated companies with commercialization and is a founding partner of CDL-Seattle.

François Baneyx, who became CoMotion’s director in 2019, described CDL-Seattle as “the missing link in the UW innovation ecosystem and our region.”

“It has the potential to transform and unify research and commercialization activities in the computational health space and will help establish Seattle as a beacon for these domains — drawing talent to the region while growing what we have here,” he said in a statement.

CoMotion has faced challenges over the past several years. In 2017, CoMotion laid off 15% of its staff, a move attributed to the expiration of some money-generating UW technology patents. In 2019, Vikram Jandhyala, UW’s former vice provost of innovation who took over CoMotion in 2014, passed away. That year CoMotion also closed public access to its MakerSpace and shrank its headquarters.

CDL background: Founded in 2012 at the University of Toronto, CDL typically partners with universities to host its accelerators. Participating tech and science-focused companies have gone on to create more than $7 billion in equity value.

“We’re thrilled to partner with one of the world’s great research institutions, the University of Washington, located in such a vibrant hub of global leaders in technology commercialization — the Seattle region,” Ajay Agrawal, founder of CDL, said in a statement.

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