Oct. 21, 2022

MBA students get real-life experience with deep science startups

Creative Destruction Lab - Rockies course provides experience and sometimes a career
Matt Hughes and Ryan Lewinson
Matt Hughes, standing, left, and Ryan Lewinson of All Skin during CDL-Rockies Session 4. Adrian Shellard, for the Haskayne School of Business

Seamus MacIsaac, a 2022 graduate of the Executive MBA (EMBA) program, was looking at post-secondaries across the country before he decided on Haskayne. He says the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) course was a big selling point for choosing the business school at UCalgary.

“I attended an information session that featured an alumnus from the EMBA program. He spoke about his experience in the CDL course, how much fun it was and how much he recommended it. That was one of the driving forces for me to go to Haskayne,” says MacIsaac. “The opportunity to network and work alongside an early-stage company was something I wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

Seamus MacIsaac and Jim Dewald

Seamus MacIsaac, right, graduated from the Executive MBA program in June 2022.

Courtesy Seamus MacIsaac

The CDL course runs in partnership with CDL-Rockies and is available to graduate students at both the Haskayne School of Business and the Alberta School of Business. The course pairs MBA and Executive MBA students with early-stage science- and tech-based startups with the students helping for four months of the venture’s nine-month journey through the objectives-based CDL program. 

Students get the opportunity to experience first-hand how to build and grow a business, and ventures gain valuable business development support to successfully take their ideas to market. 

“The advice I received was to find a founder who had almost no business experience because that's where I’d be able to add the most value. I ended up getting matched up with three MDs who were brilliant, but didn't have the exposure on the business side,” says MacIsaac.

The MDs MacIsaac was paired up with were dermatology resident physicians Drs. Ryan Lewinson, MD, PhD, Isabelle Vallerand, MD, PhD and Matt Hughes, MD, BSc, FRCPC; the team behind skin health technology company All Skin Inc.

Building a precision skincare company

The pandemic saw wait times for skin testing, which were already an average wait of 12 months, increase to sometimes more than two years. Lewinson, Vallerand and Hughes noticed a trend: many of the patients waiting for patch testing were dealing with issues related to cosmetic products that didn’t suit their skin type. 

The trio of clinician-scientists set out to streamline the process of finding safe and effective skincare and cosmetic products for all skin types. They took a data-driven approach to create All Skin, the first at-home patch test and AI-enabled mobile app that helps people with sensitive skin find products best suited to them.

The All Skin team had the idea and the medical and technical expertise; but when it came to commercializing, they knew they needed support. 

“The three of us know how to build a product, but we didn’t know what to do with that product once it was built,” says Lewinson. “That is really the benefit that CDL brought for us.

"Right from day one, we learned about several aspects that were pretty foreign to us — how to build a business plan, how to build a go-to-market strategy, how to build a financial model, et cetera. These are all critical to take something you’ve invented and actually get it to the people who need it.” 

MBA students at CDL-Rockies’ Session 4

MBA students at CDL-Rockies’ Session 4.

Adrian Shellard, for the Haskayne School of Business

All Skin was one of 19 companies to graduate from CDL-Rockies’ nine-month program and the team credits MacIsaac’s expertise and support as one of the reasons the venture was able to smooth the learning curve as the physicians also became entrepreneurs.

“[Business students] really do serve as a catalyst to help onboard the company in those early stages, which was critical for us. We would continually be bouncing ideas off of him and clarifying questions we had about mentor feedback,” Lewinson says.

“Having someone who has more business expertise helped bolster our team when we had no formal business training.”

For MacIsaac, who took a leap into a completely new role in Calgary’s tech industry shortly after graduating, the experience and network he’s gained from the CDL course are invaluable. 

“CDL is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Being in the room with all the mentors and seeing the camaraderie with all of them to help students and businesses. We got so much exposure that we wouldn’t have in a classroom alone. How many opportunities do you get to do that?”

To learn more about the CDL course, available to MBA and EMBA students at the Haskayne School of Business, visit the program’s website.