Despite COVID-19 necessitating logistical changes, 2020 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the Atlantic division of science and technology accelerator Creative Destruction Lab.

The cohort that finished the program on May 5 was the first to offer specialized training for ocean technology startups, which comprised about half of the 25 companies that were accepted to participate.

CDL-Atlantic site lead Jeff Larsen said in an interview that the accelerator plans to introduce a separate Oceans cohort this fall, complementing the generalist Prime cohort. Both will include 20 to 25 companies, meaning that overall enrolment in CDL Atlantic could as much as double.

“For this year they ran contemporaneously,” said Larsen in an interview, referring to the ocean startups having been part of the Prime group. “Next year, though, they’ll run more separately because of the scale. It will be a little bit less connected.”

CDL has divisions across Canada, as well as in Paris, France and Oxford, England. The Atlantic location, though, is the only one to offer oceans-specific training.

The regular accelerator programs last nine months. They include five full-day meetings, called sessions, that allow startup founders to receive feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and professionals from relevant industries.

At the end of each session, the business people in attendance are asked to volunteer at least four hours of their time to provide the participants with one-on-one coaching. If there are no volunteers willing to mentor a particular company, it is not invited back for future sessions.

Normally, CDL-Atlantic holds its events at Dalhousie University. In recognition of the enthusiasm shown by Newfoundland companies and mentors, the May 5 meeting was originally slated to take place in St. John’s.

The threat of COVID-19 infection, however, forced Larsen’s team to move the proceedings online.

“We had to make the call about seven days in advance,” he said. “We tried to hang on as long as we could, but then we realized that it wasn’t going to be possible.”

A “Super Session” that was scheduled for Juneand would have showcased companies from across CDL has also been cancelled.

CDL’s Recovery stream—an accelerated version of its usual program that will run this summer and is aimed at developing solutions to the dual public health and economic crisis—is slated to be held entirely online.

“We believe that science and technology needs to accelerate out of the lab and make an impact on public health and the economic recovery in a way that’s even more urgent than normal,” said Larsen, adding that an online accelerator was the only way to achieve this under current conditions.

The regular CDL programs are divided up by region. But the online model being used for the Recovery program will allow all of the participating companies, which could number as many as 160, to be enrolled in a single, global cohort.

CDL’s current plan is for its usual, geographically-based programming to resume by October. The first few sessions for each cohort will be held digitally, with a possible transition back to in-person meetings to follow.

Although companies usually enrol in programs that are geographically close to them, Larsen said that the emphasis on ocean tech in the Atlantic region’s most recent Prime group attracted startups from as far away as Norway, Greece and California.

He expects the trend to continue in the fall, citing Atlantic Canada’s growing reputation as a hotbed for ocean technology: “The more we position ourselves as a leading ecosystem for ocean companies, we’re getting more and more interest, and our reputation is starting to really develop.”