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:

Applications for CDL Risk at CDL-Wisconsin are now open at Selected ventures will begin the nine-month CDL program in October 2020. To learn more about CDL Risk, please contact


The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public, land-grant institution that offers a complete spectrum of studies through 13 schools and colleges. With more than 43,000 students from every U.S. state and 121 countries, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of Wisconsin’s state university system. UW–Madison is a formidable research engine, ranking sixth among U.S. universities as measured by dollars spent on research. Faculty, staff, and students are motivated by a tradition known as the Wisconsin Idea that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state and beyond.

The School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS) part of the College of Letters and Science at UW Madison brings together the top-ranked departments of Computer Sciences, Statistics, and the Information School. CDIS was launched in late 2019 to serve the computing, data and information needs of UW-Madison, the region and society. CDIS is focused on accelerating discovery, learning, and engagement related to computing, data and information. 


The Wisconsin School of Business (WSB) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a world-renowned institution that prides itself on academic excellence, a commitment to ethics, and real-world experiences for its students. Established in 1900, the School was one of the first five business programs in the nation. Today, it proudly educates students from all walks of life with its nationally recognized undergraduate, MBA, Master’s, PhD, and professional development programs. WSB’s undergraduate risk management and insurance program is ranked top in the country by U.S. News & World Report and its Risk Management and Insurance Department is recognized as a Global Center of Insurance Excellence by the International Insurance Society.


Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 254 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includesCONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.


American Family Ventures is a venture capital firm focused on insurance innovation. Founded in 2013 as the direct venture capital arm of American Family Insurance, AFV invests in early-stage startups that are redefining the future of the insurance industry. AFV aims to help create category-leading companies through minority equity positions, active partnership and collaboration, an extensive Insurtech network, and a comprehensive platform of value-add programs. For more information, visit 


CDL is a nonprofit organization that delivers an objectives-based program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science- and technology-based companies. Its nine-month program allows founders to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, increasing their likelihood of success. Founded in 2012 by Professor Ajay Agrawal at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the program has expanded to nine sites across four countries: Oxford (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford), Paris (HEC Paris), Atlanta (Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology), Madison (Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison), Vancouver (Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia), Montreal (HEC Montréal), Calgary (Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary), and Halifax (Rowe School of Business, Dalhousie University).

For more information:
Amarpreet Kaur
Marketing Lead
Creative Destruction Lab