On October 8, 2020, we hosted our kick-off ‘Making a Difference: Speaker Series’ event for audiences grade 6 and up. Roughly 600 participants engaged in an interactive panel-style session. We were delighted to have Beth Stevens, a student innovator; David Alston, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Brilliant Labs; and Keith MacIntosh, a social entrepreneur and founder of PLATO and PQA software join us as our esteemed panellists.
The session started with our moderator Jacob Lingley asking the panellists to introduce themselves and talk about their current and past ventures.
Beth is an 11th-grade student, founder and inventor of Beth’s Bike Light. Beth started her venture as a middle school project when she was in grade 7. Beth’s Bike Light shows the driver how much room to give a cyclist on the road. The light attaches to the bike frame on the bottom-left projecting light in such a way that it illuminates the road for about a meter. A brilliant invention, isn’t it? Beth shared that she started small, making the first prototype by experimenting with a bulky battery and lots of wires and then grew the concept into a business. Beth recently launched her product website (https://www.bethsbikelight.com/)
Keith MacIntosh is a social entrepreneur and founder of PLATO and PQA software testing. Keith grew up on a farm and considers the farm as the world’s first or second oldest entrepreneurial business. He learned right from the start that one must work hard and get ahead by making a difference in the world both economically and by working with the community. He chose his business to be both a for-profit and social impact business. Keith is attempting to prove that these two business models are not mutually exclusive but, in fact, complement each other.
David also grew up on a farm and appreciated it’s many life lessons. Having the land to play on, barns to build in, so many things engaged his creativity. While he was still a kid on the farm, he had a chance to work on computers and discovered that he could use zeros and ones by coding to get creative. This sowed the seeds of passion, leading him to pursue his career in technology. His specialty became marketing, and so he has been working in technology companies for the most part throughout his career. David believes that living in New Brunswick can bring a lot of opportunities, and he had a chance to build companies, develop products and travel around the world. Reflecting on his success through random encounters with coding by chance, he wanted to help create opportunities for everyone else to also have a random chance of coding. This inspired him to start the Brilliant Labs initiative for young people in order to figure out ways to integrate this kind of opportunity in the school system through supporting coding and maker spaces.
After sharing their stories, our speakers shared lessons for young people based on their experiences. Here are some of the highlights:
- Give a hundred percent of your time to your business venture. Sometimes you will get burnt out, and sometimes, it won’t go anywhere. However, sometimes you will also have successful moments. Everyone goes through these peaks and valleys.
- Putting your passion behind your idea is what fuels your motivation. You find your passion within your venture, and then you chase on your passion and focus on that.
- Have a core passion, a core set of beliefs that pull you back to that. Your passion and beliefs convey that you are trying to make a difference and that you are going to be successful is something you can lean on during more challenging times, bringing you back to the core.
- Surround yourself with great people passionate about how you would like to change the world with your product, your idea, and your service. Share your idea, find others that want to be part of your mission.
- You don’t have to have everything perfect with your idea when you get started. Start with one thing, just one thing, one call, one email, one piece of research. You don’t need to have a perfect plan; keep iterating and learning every day.
- Mistakes allow opportunities to learn. Self-corrections allow your ventures to become more sustainable.
- Mentors are super important and help you stay motivated as well. Mentorship can come from anyone, someone with experience, your peers and even from people much younger than you. Talking to mentors and communities can help reignite your passion.
- Find your tribe; there are also people worldwide that can help you who can be passionate about the same idea you have. Today’s great opportunity is that you can find them on Google, LinkedIn. Additionally, you can search for conferences and see who is talking about similar topics. Like-minded and accommodating people can help you make more connections.
On maintaining socially responsible entrepreneurism and sustainability in your ventures
- The community that you serve is the heart of your business.
- It is about making the best experience for the customers and also the best experience for the world. The world is your oyster, and you have got to make sure that it’s healthy.
- For socially impactful businesses, sustainability means being able to make money and being in the business of supporting themselves for the long term. You need to be able to have viable ways of supporting the business for bringing a social change.
- If you are going to spend a dollar, where would you rather spend it assuming that the product or the service is of equal value? Would you rather focus on a company that is just focused on making money, or would you like to focus your dollar on a company that makes money but is also designed in a way to have a bigger impact on an endeavour that you are very passionate about? If you think of ideas like that, you have a competitive advantage. People want to see how they can use a dollar to make a lasting impact.
On the role of youth student empowerment:
- Learn more about United Nations social developmental goals (UN-SDG) and the problems that are persistent in this modern era. It is so important because you have the power to expand your ideas and have so much resilience.
- Everybody is going to make mistakes, no matter if you are ten or fifty or seventy years old. We all make mistakes. Resilience is about contributing, learning, and putting your passion and energy into what you want to do.
- The more you try now, the more you are going to have that advantage later in life.
- We are lucky to be in Atlantic Canada that has a community that supports young entrepreneurs. As we have been there ourselves, we want the next generation to flourish because that’s what makes this place a better place to live, and we impact the world faster.
- Real-world problems don’t have an age requirement. Real-world problems affect everybody, so everybody should contribute to the solution.
- Avoid getting competitive and being caught up in grades. Don’t let the Bs, Cs, or honourable mentions let down your ideas and ventures. You have the power to pursue your passions.
- Start when you feel inspired whenever you see that you have a small idea and get the ball rolling. Just go for it. You don’t need to wait.
- I wish I started sooner when I was in grade 8 or 7. It took me a long time to understand that one person could make a difference.
- I only started to understand the power of relationships and connections as I got older. If you click with some people and really get passionate about it, know that those relationships continue to build over time, continue working with those people, continue those relationships and widen those connections. It’s so powerful because you can rely on people you can connect with when you need to figure something out. So Invest in relationships.
- I wish I had known that the more effort you put into it, the more fruits you are going to see. If you are not going to work so hard and let opportunities pass by, you will not get much out of it.
- It’s okay not to know; It’s okay to ask for help. The more you put in, the more you are going to get out at the start. It’s not just about the medal or the grade that you get at the end of it.
The Present and the Future:
The session ended on a high note. David shared a few insights on current and future opportunities in Atlantic Canada. He stated that the pandemic has disrupted the entire planet. “Every process, every business, every organization, are literally turned on their heads, and a lot of them are stuck trying to figure out how they adapt. So with every one of those organizations that are kind of stuck, they need to be unstuck if they wanna survive in terms of keeping on growing in the pandemic and at the same time because so many procedures have changed and so many things are not what they used to be. It creates a lot of opportunities for ideas to flourish.”
David elaborated on the necessity of returning to fundamental principles as an innovator. Perhaps this ‘Brave New World’ can offer more significant promise to students for whom the traditional model is no longer suitable. David elaborates:
“So will we go back exactly to the way classes are taught again? Probably not, and maybe that’s a good thing. Some things are going to change because of that.
So if you got an idea, that could turn into a business. This is the time to start thinking about it and figuring it out. I know it sounds crazy. Who creates a business in the middle of a pandemic? But in fact, many successful businesses started during the recession and started during these major disruption events.”
Please be sure to join us on November 5th for our next speaker in our Making a Difference Speaker Series. We will be led in a discussion on Designing for Empathy by the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, The Founding President and CEO of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT.