Robert Schaffer is a condensed matter physicist with a PhD from the University of Toronto. He is one of about 40 aspiring entrepreneurs taking part in a bold, new quantum machine learning program developed by the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a seed-stage accelerator located at U of T’s Rotman School of Management.

The program is touted as the first-ever attempt by a business accelerator to marry the booming field of machine learning with the nascent technology of quantum computing, which involves using tiny, atom-sized particles to perform ultra-complex calculations.

If it works, Schaffer reasons he and his colleagues will help launch a new industry with the potential to super-charge all manner of existing artificial intelligence applications – tackling everything from drug discovery to self-driving cars – while opening the door to countless others.

Robert Schaffer, is one of about 40 entrepreneurs admitted to the Creative Destruction Lab’s new quantum machine learning program (photo by Chris Sorensen)

Big Opportunity

“There’s a chance the technology isn’t there yet and won’t be in time for us,” Schaffer claims, referring to the race by IBM, Google and others to build the first general purpose quantum computer.

“But it’s also possible the technology will be there and we’ll be on the cutting edge, or we’ll find ways to make the technology that is there work and grow into something fantastic for the university, the city and for Canada.

“We’re trying to get in on the ground floor.”


The Creative Destruction Lab is a seed-stage program for massively scalable, science-based companies. The program employs an objectives-based mentoring process with the goal of maximizing equity-value creation.

First revealed back in May, CDL’s novel quantum machine learning stream quickly attracted applicants from as far away as Russia and Pakistan. The inaugural cohort, which is operating out of U of T’s new ONRamp co-working space, are being given access, via the cloud, to the world’s only commercially available quantum computers, built by Vancouver’s D-Wave systems.

D-Wave’s shed-sized, $15-million machines have cores cooled to a temperature colder than deep space – necessary to manipulate individual quantum particles – and have been sold to the likes of Google, NASA and Lockheed Martin.

The entrepreneurs also have access to a quantum system made by Rigetti Computing, a Silicon Valley-based quantum hardware startup, as well as seed financing, should they choose to accept it, provided by a trio of U.S. venture capital investors – Bloomberg Beta, Data Collective and Spectrum 28.

Daniel Mulet is an associate director at CDL and the head of the quantum machine learning program

This news is hailed as another example of how the University of Toronto startup hub strategy. The institution appears to be a hotbed for entrepreneurs who are seeking to transform the latest cutting-edge research in AI and other field into game-changing companies.

“To my knowledge, Toronto is now home to the largest concentration of quantum machine learning startups,” says Daniel Mulet, associate director of CDL who is running the program, adding that interest from entrepreneurs, investors and technology partners far exceeded expectations.

Sylvester Kaczmarek is among those who relocated to Toronto to participate in the program.

“Machine learning accelerators are everywhere,” he says, adding he spent six years in Silicon Valley, where he launched two startups, including a mobile game studio with a global footprint.

“I mentored at Techstars, Google and all of these places. I’ve mentored more than 250 startups in my life – in Asia, in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Latin America. But I’ve never seen anything like a quantum machine learning accelerator program – this is very unique.”

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Reference: University of Toronto