On the last week of July, BESTLab hosted its first STEM Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, where some of Canada’s brightest young minds joined Lassonde incoming students to transform their science projects into viable businesses. This program was designed as a collaboration between Youth Science Canada, BESTLab at Lassonde School of Engineering and the Canadian Innovation Centre (CIC). It provided an excellent opportunity for current or recent high school students to learn about various skills, such as communication and creative problem solving, that they will need for future success.
How everything started:
BESTLab Director, Dr. Andrew Maxwell and Reni Barlow, Managing Director of Youth Canada Science, realized that many students who participate in the national Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF) had developed new technologies that could solve important problems, but did not have the skills or expertise to turn them into a business. Dr. Maxwell felt that the entrepreneurship programs designed by CIC and BESTLab could offer a solution, and also make these students aware of how BESTLab was transforming engineering at Lassonde. Andrew and Reni agreed to develop a one week entrepreneurial bootcamp for some of the CWSF top students, and based on interest from incoming Lassonde students (one of whom was a winner at CWSF) they also opened up the program to some of incoming Lassonde students.
In early May, Andrew Maxwell and Sogand Talebi from BESTLab travelled to Regina to meet with the CWSF finalists, to find out more about their projects and invite the most promising ones (who were awarded a golden ticket) to attend the bootcamp.
To the right: Dr. Maxwell and Megan Gran a bronze medalist at CWSF.
Most of the students stayed in the Schulich Executive Centre, attending classes each day from 9am until 8pm, after which students could ‘relax’ by working on their pitches. Busy days were filled with a combination of lectures, workshops, guest entrepreneur speakers, and field trips. The lectures covered topics such as: communication, critical venture success factors, barriers to adoption, and developing a value proposition, while students learned how to creatively solve problems, work in teams and reflect on their experiential learning journeys. For example, the first workshop on communications started with an improved session, where students learned the importance of building empathy, a skill they needed to use throughout the week. Students also got a chance to speak with BEST entrepreneurs, and Innovation York, to learn how they turned novel technologies into scalable businesses.
Field trips included a visit to the Ontario Science Centre (a Youth Science Canada partner) where students got a chance to visit its inner workings and find out how scientists and artists turn their visions into breathtaking and engaging exhibits.
Everyday students practiced their pitches and presented them to each others and to invited guests. For example, on the Wednesday, in the morning, bootcamp participants had to pitch to their ideas to a high school students from York District School Board, who had just finished a summer entrepreneurship course in partnership with Innovation York. In the afternoon, both the York District School Board students and the Bootcamp participants participated in a creative problem solving hackathon.
Om Agarwal, bronze medalist at CWSF pitching to high school students.
Throughout the week, students worked in dynamic groups, and were free to help each other with their projects. This provided them with a safe space to share their ideas and provide constructive criticism to each other’s work. At the end of the week, students had to prepare a video about their business idea (with some help from YorkU film school graduates) and also to present them to a panel of Lassonde judges on the last day.
“It doesn’t matter if you are the best at everything, it means nothing at all if you can’t incorporate everybody else’s strengths and your own strengths together. It is not necessary important to work around your weaknesses but to understand them and find somebody whose strengths are your weaknesses.”
~ Megan Gran, incoming Lassonde Student, CWSF participant