The Creative Destruction Lab Rockies is fueling exceptional new entrepreneurs — and changing the way science and technology are commercialized across the country

It’s been said that a new rule for the future is, “Anything that can be connected, will be connected.” UCalgary geomatics engineering professor Dr. Steve Liang, PhD, can explain what that means and why it matters — plus, he’ll tell you how he turned a fledgling venture into a successful business in nine months flat. 

The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) is a milestone-based, seed-stage program that helps entrepreneurs transition science projects into high-growth companies. Imagine a science and tech-based version of Dragon’s Den — minus the cameras, quips and commercial breaks. 

CDL launched in 2012 at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and quickly expanded across the country. UCalgary’s robust iteration — Creative Destruction Lab Rockies — kicked off last year. Working to expand his junior company, SensorUp, Liang was among the first to go through the intensive, experiential process. He says the program not only changed his company’s trajectory, but set him up to change the world.  

SensorUp is a cloud platform for the Internet of Things. Essentially, it’s technology that can analyze information from a variety of unconnected systems and transform it into actionable insights. For instance, Liang’s innovation would allow key information relating to a city’s public transportation, emergency medical services, traffic, etc. to come together in a way that could dramatically increase safety and operational efficacy.

I learned how to take big science to the real world.

— Dr. Steve Liang

“If there was, say, a major fire, it would be possible to immediately know where the fire trucks are, where the water is, what direction the wind is blowing — that data would be accessible all at once,” says Liang. “SensorUp would enable new solutions to be built 10 times faster than they are now.”

Liang registered his company in 2011, but it wasn’t until he made the cut to participate in the pilot CDL-Rockies program (whose tagline is “Build Something Massive”) that he gained the focus, networks and investors to go big. “I know my technology has the potential to have a huge impact — but I’m a researcher, not a business person,” says Liang. “CDL put me in front of a group of very experienced, successful entrepreneurs every six weeks to get advice and refine my priorities for the following six weeks.”

Alice Reimer, BSc’99, MBA’03, is lead of CDL-Rockies. She says the magic of the program lies in its capacity to bring together people who would not normally intersect or invest together. “Emerging innovators meet with entrepreneurial leaders who are interested in mentorship and development,” says Reimer. “We’re changing the way science is commercialized across the country.”

SensorUp made it through 23 elimination rounds, and Liang has since raised more than $2 million to set up his company. “I learned how to take big science to the real world.” CDL, he adds, “has empowered me to say that we are going to change the world.”

CDL-Rockies is fueled by 12 founding partners who contributed $3.6 million to get the Haskayne School of Business program off to an impressive start. CDL-Rockies charges no fees and takes no equity from participating companies; instead, the program is entirely supported by private donations and corporate sponsorships.

Clean water for everyone

A UCalgary startup offers innovative solutions to the global water crisis

Clean Water for Everyone

FREDsense — Field Ready Electrochemical Detector — is the brainchild of a group of UCalgary alumni, including David Lloyd, MSc’13, and Emily Hicks, BHSc’13. who created portable field kits to test for chemicals in water on site. Their startup was propelled by participation in various student competitions, including Energy New Venture, as well as through a partnership with Innovate Calgary.