Welcome to a sample article of Brilliant Labs Magazine: The Entrepreneurial Spirit where we will explore what it means to be an entrepreneur through over 60 stories like this one of youth, educators and established entrepreneurs alike.
At the core of any classroom lies the directive to prepare students for the future, but we all know that’s not an easy task and no one has a crystal ball to predict what tomorrow will look like for this upcoming generation. What we do know is that the economic landscape is shifting. The days of being concerned that a factory’s industrial machine will take your job has been replaced with our youth competing with today’s automation, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, globalization, new disruptive technologies, and a growing ‘gig-economy’. We are already experiencing these economic shifts in Canada. According to a Randstad staffing report Workforce 2025: the future of the world of work, the gig economy is here with 20 to 30 percent of the Canadian workforce being made up of “non-traditional workers” (freelance or short-term contracts). 85 percent of the companies surveyed by Randstad acknowledged that they will be growing their “agile workforce” over the next few years (Randstad, 2016). To say this is a ‘shift’ in the landscape is mild; rather, it may be more accurate to say that we are embarking on a ‘seismic’ workforce transformation.
Not only do we need an agile workforce, but we need more flexible workers who have strong critical thinking and collaboration skills. To make things even more competitive employers can either choose from a ‘cloud’ of international talent, nationally, or here at home making it even more important for communities and educators to bond together to support youth and level the playing field. To do this, private sector and public sector groups like the New Brunswick Anglophone South School District (ASD-S), ConnextionWorks, Enterprise Saint John, and Brilliant Labs are showing how collaboration through an entrepreneurial pilot program offered to students of the Saint John Area High Schools is transforming the traditional classroom.
Ms. Zoë Watson, Superintendent, Anglophone School District – South, explains “We were thrilled with the opportunities the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) provided the students who were part of the first program this past fall. Engagement in learning is a major focus for our district and a learning environment which allows students to follow their interests and become immersed in a project for which they have passion and enthusiasm such as the CFE provides is what we want for all of our students. We know that when CARR (Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness and Relevance) is incorporated into our learning plans, that students are engaged and want to take their learning to a higher level. We saw this in these students and knew that we needed to expand the program for 2018-2019. We are very pleased that EECD is partnering with ASD-S in order to provide an online learning opportunity for students to be part of this program. Stacey Wood has joined the team as the distance learning teacher and will be supporting students as they take part in this program in various parts of our district and the province. This type of innovative teaching and learning environment allows students to solve real world problems and use critical and creative skills.
The relationship between the students and their teacher, Mr. Van Beek, the staff of Connexion Works and the community mentors was integral to their motivation and their willingness to take risks and move outside of their comfort zone. This is key to becoming an entrepreneur. We want our students to see the possibilities in our communities and our province and move toward a goal that will make them happy and productive adults. I was honoured to attend the final presentations, and was blown away with the depth of the projects and the students explaining to us the lessons they learned – one young man said, “you have to fail often, and fail forward!”
The students had such a connection with Mr. Van Beek, an amazing teacher!” We connected with Ms. Stacey Wood, Teacher at the IDEA Centre for Enterprise to ask for her insight and why the CFE is important. “The benefits of supporting an entrepreneurial program outside of a traditional classroom are immeasurable. High school students in 2018 are very much interested in learning that is much more experiential. They have access to information 24/7 but do not always have the opportunity to develop skills and have experiences that will allow them to innovate, solve real-world problems, and learn in ways that are much more meaningful. Today’s students want that, they crave that. The one piece of advice that I would give on how to integrate the development of an entrepreneurial spirit in classrooms, is to foster a risk taking attitude. That could take many forms, but administrators need to support and encourage innovation. Allow teachers to think “outside the box” and support that thinking in whatever way they can. Once students are exposed to this kind of “attitude” it is amazing what can happen.” That ‘out of the box’ thinking is exactly what this entrepreneurship pilot program offered Saint John Area High School students — a chance to work at ConnextionWorks (a collaborative workspace in uptown Saint John that is home startups, freelancers, nonprofits and companies of all sizes).
“Entrepreneurship connects students directly with their communities” explained Mr. Ries Van Beek, Entrepreneurship Teacher at Malachy’s High School, “It challenges them to identify and help solve problems in their immediate environment and it’s that same community that supports their journey to do so. In the past, I have brought in guest speakers to the classroom or helped my students enter various contests. However, this program more intensely and meaningfully connects community mentors and resources with our students to empower their work. I’m seeing a pace of learning and an enthusiasm for school that is off the charts and it makes every day interesting and exciting.” Ms. Heather Acker, ConnextionWorks co-founder and serial entrepreneur, shares Ries’ observations about when the students arrived at ConnexionWorks “they all looked a bit scared, something new was happening and they knew they were the “test class”. After the first 3 days our team at ConnexionWorks noticed and commented on how quickly the attitudes of all the students changed. We could see how much they really enjoyed coming into our space, smiling proud and saying ‘Hi’ to everyone. You could see they were feeling empowered, taking the lead and making a difference. We were so impressed with the maturity and respectful nature of these students. You could often find them having a coffee or a drink of water in the lunch room chatting about their own projects with other members of ConnexionWorks and asking advice from members.
They were really integrating themselves into the business culture that we so graciously share with each other. It makes a difference. having the entrepreneurial students here as opposed to a traditional classroom setting. We could see that from the students’ remarkable attendance.” The participating students can feel the difference too. Graham is a grade 12 student who wasn’t sure what he was getting into when he signed up for Mr. Van Beek’s Entrepreneurship class,but he definitely isn’t looking back. We asked Graham what the biggest differences where between the traditional classroom and his time at ConnexionWorks. “There couldn’t be more of a difference between the two, the classroom feels regulated with limitations both creatively and literally. From the 30 year old textbooks to the locked-down internet that prevents you from accessing your Gmail account to the openness of ConnextionWorks that has everything at your fingertips. A simple walk to the coffee machine (yes coffee machine) could turn into a business opportunity by bumping into the right person. Having the class setting in a business environment that is going at its own pace instrumental to obtaining connections and networking with others.” Iana is in grade 11 and agrees with Graham “I enjoyed the unusual class space as it made my education more interesting and I actually felt like I had a say in how I would like to learn material, and to be honest, through that “real” life space I was able to learn far more than I ever did in a traditional classroom. Everyone is different and putting students through an education system that erases all the chance for further progress as it shapes people to be thesame, a copy of each other, rather than an individual whose opinion differs from other and that it’s okay to be different, and that needs to be respected.”
Now that students were feeling at home in their new entrepreneurial setting they were introduced to Ms.Michele Lodge, Project Coordinator for Emerging Entrepreneurs at Enterprise Saint John, an Economic development organization that offers programming to support new start-ups and grow business in the Saint John region, “Enterprise Saint John was very pleased to partner with the Anglophone South School District to create a unique learning environment for students outside of their schools. Having students work in a business environment and interact with professionals on a daily basis to assist them with their own venture was an amazing process to witness. The confidence, maturity and knowledge they gained by taking control of a project and working with adults who treated them as equals cannot be duplicated in a traditional classroom setting. The mistakes made along the way of developing their venture were equally as important as their successes. Learning to cope and overcome uncomfortable situations and roadblocks along the way was a key take away for the students.” The goal now was to take students’ ideas and work out next steps that included a lean canvas, possible prototyping and pitching their products at the end of semester demo day. Brilliant Labs was there to support with hardware and software needs as students developed their prototypes, and the class and their advisors worked to bring their ideas to life. “Typically, a student would develop a business plan and conduct some primitive market research.” shared Mr. Van Beek “However, there is nothing primitive in Graham’s motivation and work ethic; his project has traveled further than I have ever seen a student take an idea inside the traditional classroom setting.” We asked Graham what his perspective was: “My original thought of just having a space to work on my business turned into life lessons and business opportunities that will last a lifetime. We didn’t just learn “business” or simple things from an entrepreneurship class in high school, we learned what it meant to fail and that failing is the most important lesson of them all. By failing, I learned to succeed and continue to move forward.
Before the course, I thought it was going to be a place to sit down and work away on my laptop or arrange a few meetings, it turned into gaining connections to professional hockey teams, one of the largest law firms in Canada, and countless valuable connections. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it wasn’t just school curriculums that we learned, not even close, we learned about life, what it means to be an entrepreneur and what there really is out there beyond “curriculums”.
demo day, in late January, the class pitched their products and ideas. “We didn’t know how many of our invited guests would show up” Mr. Van Beek reflected, “From little brothers and cousins to Superintendent Zoe Watson and Mayor Don Darling, everyone made time for the students. It was standing-room only!” The students each had 3-5 minutes to share what they learned during the semester, their future plans, and pitch their business idea. This was the perfect platform for Graham to share his work. “My company, Quick-Fit Sportswear began as an idea for a product ‘a hockey sock’ that does not require sock tape while providing players with a better overall fit to their shin pad and hockey sock with the adjustable straps installed to the inside and accessible through the rear openings of the sock. When I had first thought of the idea, I was under the impression that I’m only a high school student and starting my own business is far beyond my reaches, yet here I stand today with the papers to say I am a legal business owner with a patent pending product. Working on it everyday gave me the drive to go bigger and better as much as I could, and working with lawyers and the Sea Dogs were the most surreal experience thus far. Also, by working on this it has allowed me to expand my reaches into other ideas and business possibilities, such as the app I am currently underway of producing.” Iana shared many of the struggles faced by entrepreneurs, she decided to scratch her original plan and move into a new direction.
“My final idea was an app that helps students when picking a postsecondary institution, by asking them a series of questions to personalize the results and put them in order from best to least based on individual’s choices. I came up with it after we were given a presentation about postsecondary institutions and were given out dozens of booklets and I felt so overwhelmed when I left that place with what it felt a ton of options, so I wanted to create something that would help me and other students face the same problem every year ‘where to go after graduating.”
With demo day and the semester completed, students may have now returned to regular school life with a different perspective of the community and entrepreneurial experience, Graham and Iana certainly have: Graham, “I have many favourite moments, from Van Beek telling us his life stories and putting it into a lesson that was meaningful, to having the “eureka” moments with friends there and going to work on it.
But, above all the rest, being able to talk to one of the top lawyers in Canada and having him believe in what I’m doing by helping me obtain a patent. Plus, being able to work so closely with the Saint John Sea Dogs, who I’ve watched as a fan for years, to going into their locker room and meeting the staff was absolutely surreal, and none of it would’ve been possible without this program and of course Van Beek.” Iana, “I learned a lot during our semester together, there are far more opportunities in our city than anyone else talks about. It is hard, and a lot of work, but if you really want to succeed – you need to be committed to you goal. As well as it helped me realize what I want to do later on in life, and now I’m working to make sure I do everything I can to get into business program after I graduate next year. Even though the program for me is over, I am still working on my project, unfortunately on a slower pace, as school and job get in a way.”
What was their advice for other students who may like to explore entrepreneurship? Graham, “The advice I would give would be to get out of your comfort zone. Go and try what is “socially unacceptable” or things your friends would say you’re crazy to do. I was made fun of for thinking I could start my own business, but here I am! Don’t stop when things get rough either, that’s when you will find out if you’re made for this kind of life. Failing leads to succeeding and is all apart of the process, you will fail in some type of way, it’s just the matter of how you handle that and take lessons from it that dictate if you will succeed. And lastly, you can always be better. Iana, “My advice would be to not doubt yourself and do whatever feels right. It’s a class where you will learn a lot, just keep your mind open and be ready to do a lot of work for a project that matters to you, and most importantly have some fun. Learning should be both fun and educational!” Iana, how did this experience make you feel? “ My comments barely cover everything I have to say about the program and how thankful I am for getting a chance to take it and how much I appreciate all the work and faith Mr. Van Beek has put in us. I think, I speak for all of us when I say that we learned skills that we can apply both in workplace and/or real life situations.”
It’s clear the benefits shared by the students of the CFE program far exceeded the hopes of their teacher and community organizations. Students have found passion in the work they’ve accomplished and have learned valuable life skills that will help them be the critical thinking collaborators our communities need in this evolving economic landscape. Lookout Workforce 2025 the entrepreneurial classroom has levelled up!