A Canadian nonprofit that seeks to sow the seeds of entrepreneurship around the world has joined forces with UW-Madison and major employers to teach startups and college students how to run a company.

In return, graduating Creative Destruction Lab participants are able to come away with skills that help them propel their business — if they don’t get eliminated from the cutthroat, “Shark Tank”-like program first.

And students may go on to launch their own ventures, or at least work for one of the involved firms. Besides Madison, the lab can be found at nine other universities across the globe, said lab co-leader Joan Schmit, adding the nonprofit was founded with the goal of pushing entrepreneurial activity beyond the coasts.

In what Schmit said is an “ecosystem,” the nonprofit works with the UW-Madison School of Business, as well as the new School of Computing, Data and Information Sciences, to offer not only young companies a chance to learn new skills from skilled mentors, but also UW-Madison students with an interest in starting a business.

A major corporate partner of the lab and the UW-Madison business schools, and the catalyst for bringing the nonprofit to Wisconsin, is Madison’s American Family Insurance, said AmFam Ventures managing director Dan Reed.

“We knew people from the lab previously,” Reed said. “We thought about how to get more involved with the lab, and had the idea to approach UW-Madison. It came together very organically and very quickly.”

Other partners include Madison biotech giant Exact Sciences Corp., as well as one of UW-Madison’s research arms, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, among others. The startups, over the course of five “sessions” held every eight weeks, pitched their company to 35 mentors who are accomplished entrepreneurs, active angel and venture investors and experienced company owners, Schmit said.

But there’s a catch. The mentors, only having at their disposal four hours to dedicate to any one of the startups over the eight weeks, had to raise their hand during a company’s pitch if they liked what the firm offers.

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