CDL is a non-profit objectives-based mentorship program for pre-seed to seed stage deep tech startups who are building massively scalable products/services. CDL is a place for ambitious founders of science and technology-based ventures to come and crowdsource feedback on business strategy and tactics from credible mentors with a history of building/scaling/investing in/advising startups. The program is designed around 5 full-day objective setting sessions where mentors work with founders to help refine the 3 most important sprint-style objectives to accomplish over the next 8-week interval en route to their next major inflection point.
Put another way, CDL is a rich community of entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and industry experts that collectively volunteer their time to support promising early stage tech companies as they refine their business and investment strategy as they work to become a massively successful company.
CDL is a technology first program designed for ambitious founders seeking mentorship from a network of credible advisors. Our team looks for ventures with technology that is novel, defensible and scalable with exciting potential, and a team that seems well positioned to drive the success of that technology.
No. CDL accepts ventures from around the world with various origin stories. Many of our ventures have strong links to university-based research labs from areas geographically close to CDL sites, but originating from a University or a College is not a prerequisite.
Yes. CDL is complementary to other support networks for early stage ventures and you can participate in CDL concurrently to other programs. Our program is geared towards the crowdsourcing of feedback on key business decisions from a rich network of industry/technology-specific advisors once every 8 weeks.
Yes. CDL excels at helping founders with deep technical expertise find the right business models and products for their innovation while learning to operate their ventures.
Having a co-founder is not strictly required but is advisable. The majority of ventures admitted to the CDL have 2 or more co-founders.
CDL typically admits companies that have advanced beyond the concept stage and that have developed or are working on a prototype. Demonstrating that you are committed to building a product or service is important to unlocking interest and support from mentors and future investors.
The most opportune time to participate in CDL is when you are transitioning from purely technical goals to more foundational business objectives such as your go-to-market strategy, market selection, product-market-fit, business model selection, and planning to raise capital.
There are no fees for participation. CDL is a non-profit funded through partnerships and philanthropy. The cost of CDL is time; your time for the time of our mentors.
There are multiple criteria you should consider when deciding which CDL location and stream to select as your preference. The most important considerations include:
Yes. The application allows for Ventures to select up to 5 sites to be considered at. Ventures that complete the interview stage will be given a second opportunity to rank their top CDL location(s) and stream(s). Whenever possible, ventures will be offered admission to their preferred CDL location and stream.
The choice is rooted in the points listed above under “What CDL location or stream should I apply to”. It comes down to a combination of geographic proximity (as you will have to travel to the hosting site for at least 1 in person session) and mentor composition (different locations have different mentor pools).
If you are interested in exploring non-local markets for your product/technology/innovation, take that into consideration when selecting your top site-stream preference.
No. A Venture can only be enrolled in one CDL location or stream in order to preserve continuity of relationships with the specific mentors who participate in each CDL location or stream.
Global streams run the same program as all the site-based streams. The difference is that a Global stream has multiple sites contributing mentors and resources towards the stream, leading to a “global” collection of participating stakeholders.
All ventures must submit an application through the CDL Application Portal. Ventures will be informed by mid-August whether they have been shortlisted for the interview stage. Shortlisted candidates are interviewed mid- to late- August. Admission decisions are made in early September by a selection committee at each CDL location and a matching process is used to ensure that ventures are offered admission to their highest ranked stream and location that is willing to extend an offer of admission.
Yes. Some of CDL’s most impressive alumni are graduate students who used their research to found a company including:
CDL’s sweet spot is working with ventures that plan to raise a seed round (approx. US $500K to $5M) within 12 months of applying. However, several post-seed stage ventures have used the program as springboards to their Series A including Automat and Kyndi. You should speak to a CDL team member and consult the list of mentors linked to each Site to determine fit if you are thinking of applying as a later-stage candidate.
Yes. Many of the ventures admitted to CDL do not have significant recurring revenue. CDL has worked with many strong technical teams to help achieve product-market fit and to optimize early business models.
No. Build your company where you think you have the best opportunity to succeed. All we need from you is the commitment to send a founder to each of the five day-long CDL Sessions.
Each CDL location follows the guidance of local public health officials to evaluate their ability to host in-person interviews. If possible, we do encourage in-person attendance. However, all ventures headquartered more than a 1-2 hour drive from a CDL location will have the option of interviewing online.
There is no guaranteed investment at CDL. Unlike other start-up programs, CDL does not directly fund any of the start-ups that enter into the program. CDL’s mentors include a number of investors (VC’s and angels) who often invest in portions of the participating cohort.
CDL Session days are the core offering and value add of the CDL program. In a typical cohort year at each CDL location, there are 4 CDL Sessions occurring every two months starting in the fall. There are two major components of a CDL Session which facilitate the curation and refinement of 3 measurable objectives that the ventures founding team will use to prioritize their efforts and benchmark their progress over the proceeding 2-month period. These components are:
The two-month objective cycle was constructed to reflect the changing and challenging nature of building a start-up. Any more than two months and a company’s strategic goals might change and may render any short-term objectives obsolete, any shorter and the objectives themselves become unachievable. Failure to accomplish the assigned objectives by the next CDL Session does not guarantee a specific outcome (like being dropped from the program), but it provides an anchor for the discussions with our Mentors to figure out if it was due to founder underperformance or if the objective itself was misguided.
Upon entering the program, each Venture is assigned a Venture Manager who serves as the gateway to the CDL network to facilitate introductions, referrals, and monitor the relationship with the Mentors who have pledged their time to support the company. A company’s survival is predicated on the dedication of 4 hours of a Mentors time in between Sessions. Ventures are usually paired with two of our Mentors that equates to at least 8 hours of mentorship between Sessions.
In response to COVID-19, CDL developed the capabilities to deliver the entire program online through Zoom and Slack. Each CDL location now offers a combination of fully in-person and fully virtual events to minimize associated travel costs, and will follow the guidance of local public health officials to continually re-evaluate their ability to host to in-person sessions. The program is designed in a way that is centered around personalized meetings; a format that transitioned well into the virtual setting without compromising on the quality of discussions.
During an interview, tell CDL staff why you are passionate about your work and why you are the team to accomplish the goals you have set out for yourself. Be honest about your weak spots, and consider how our mentorship pool can support your company’s growth through their extensive expertise and experience. CDL is uniquely positioned to support ventures confident enough to be vulnerable about where they need support. As a mentorship-first program, there needs to be interest in engaging with our Mentors to be a strong fit with the program.
CDL provides partner organizations curated opportunities to engage with the CDL Ecosystem – a world-class network of investors, mentors, scientists, economists, professors, entrepreneurs, and leaders, in addition to thousands of vetted ventures, and unique student talent from leading educational institutions.
Because CDL is housed within reputable universities, the CDL Partner Program includes exclusive educational opportunities that help leadership teams understand the impact, trends, and simple economics of emerging technology within a given industry. By attending CDL Sessions, partners can share their expertise, work with ventures, and see firsthand where investors and highly influential mentors are putting their money and time, allowing partner organizations to due diligence ventures before creating meaningful partnerships or running pilot projects with them.
The CDL partners program provides unique opportunities for partnered organizations to connect and collaborate with both active and alumni founders and ventures. CDL’s tailored venture recruitment strategy, paired with its admission requirements (no fee, no equity) creates the lowest barriers of entry possible for the highest performing scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs from around the world – ultimately providing partners with world-class pilot projects, collaborations, and investments.