/ - Science Fair Foundation British Columbia

Humaira Ahmed 
Founder & CEO
Locelle

When Humaira Ahmed was 15, she was engaged to a man she had never met who was 12 years older than her.  “I just remember crying every night, I wanted to do so many things with my life and it was all going to garbage,” she said. “At the time I wanted to be a surgeon and it was like my life was ending. I did the only thing I could do, I cried.” She fought really hard and eventually her dad took a stand. She said she had promised herself at that point that if she got out of that situation she would do amazing things with her life.

Ahmed went on to study software engineering in Pakistan and in 2005 her family decided to come to Canada. They landed in Toronto and immediately she experienced a great deal of social isolation so she decided to study communications. “I felt like I didn’t belong or that I was the only one. I found that there were lots of barriers for women in the workplace. It was still very male dominated. You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said. That was the impetus for her to start Locelle, a platform that connects professional women with each other.

“Right now is a really great time for that,” said founder Humaira Ahmed. “One of the goals for the platform for me was to tackle social isolation, and now we’re all socially isolated.” The company uses matching technology to connect women with each other based on matching interests and goal and connection helps them navigate male dominated industries where we can actually thrive. “I believe in challenging the status quo,” she said.
“Because of my background in marketing, I wanted to validate that this was something that went beyond my needs. If you’re just solving your needs, it’s not a business it’s a passion. I set up a landing page, and I put it out in the world through my social media and within a month we had a 100 sign ups to something that didn’t even exist.”

Ahmed said that one of the biggest misconceptions people have about business is they think that you need a lot of money to start. While she said funding has been a challenge, there are a lot of opportunities and accelerators for students. “Don’t think that you need to have a lot of money or resources to get started.” 
 

Julie Angus
Co-Founder & CEO
Open Ocean Robotics

Julie-Angus.jpg
Julie Angus and her then boyfriend, now husband, Colin spent five months in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean and were hit by two hurricanes while they were there. The boat was 24 feet long, “about the length of a double kayak with a small cabin about the size of your average kitchen table. We had a small stove, a single burner alcohol stove, the ideal food would have been freeze dried,” she said.
 
“We just learned how to work together well.” So while it appears that now they have started a business together, creating autonomous vessels that gather information about the ocean. “Our boats are kind of like satellites for the sea.”
 
“It’s hard to get data about the ocean. We know more about space than we do about our ocean. About 80% of our oceans are unexplored and unobserved. Our oceans are incredibly important for not just our economy but for the life of our planet,” said Angus. Their goal is to create a digital ocean and the company, which started in a corner of her garage is now Open Ocean and recognized as an industry leader.
 
“Starting a company is hard no matter who you are,” she said, “there’s lots of challenges with showing your technology and showing you have something that works before you can build it into a company. I had to learn new skills, like how to present information to investors, building a team.”
 
“I think young people have the opportunity to really make the world a better place. They have a vision for what the world will look like. Technology and innovation will help us solve some of the challenges that will help us live more sustainably. I just really want to encourage young people to pursue their passions and not be afraid of failure. When you are innovating you’re pushing boundaries but also your own comfort zone. We need more people, more young people to embrace that.”

Michelle Kwok
Co-Founder & CEO
FLIK

Michelle-Kwok.jpg
 
FLIK is a platform that connects female founders and leaders with students around the world. Co-founder and CEO Michelle Kwok is passionate about providing young people access to leaders and connecting those leaders with ambitious up and coming talent.
 
“A lot of female founders said they are always looking for talent. A lot of females don’t have the chance to enter the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said.
 
What keeps her going is hearing from young people how inspired they are that their mentors are asking them what they want to do, what their ideas are. “It’s so important to tell young people who are always put down and laughed at that they really can change the world.”
 
FLIK has started an initiative to match STEM students with those working to mitigate the effects of coronavirus. One of the companies they work with has recently pivoted to match covid-19 patients with experimental clinical trials and FLIK was able to help them reach more studies by connecting them with students.
 
“It’s more important than ever now with Covid that we all bring our innovation together. Youth are able to do that; they don’t have kids, they don’t have a mortgage to pay. You have all of these safety nets and you have this time and all this expertise to give to the world. If you have time, why don’t you use that to make a difference and do something really great!” she said.
 

Manisha Narula
Director of Community
League of Innovators

“We want to make sure that they don’t see entrepreneurship as such an intimidating thing. We want to make sure they have access to resources,” she said.
 
For most innovators under the age of 25, the common roadblocks are a lack of connections, lack of capital and a general feeling that they are too young to do things. The League of Innovators already had many online programs to support young entrepreneurs before Covid-19 hit, but the demand for them has gone up drastically in the past month. They are providing them free of charge.
 
Narula said she got involved with the Youth Innovation Showcase because she wants to help young people not see entrepreneurship as such an intimidating thing. “You never know who will end up continuing their idea beyond this. We want to make sure they have access to these resources after the Youth Innovation Showcase. It’s not just meant to be an idea you have submitted, you can really turn it into a business.”
 

Juan Orrego
Co-Founder & CEO
Cuboh

Juan-Orrego.jpg
Juan Orrego launched Cuboh before Covid-19 forced restaurants to rely only on delivery and takeout. The software helps restaurants manage all their delivery applications. “The reason we do this is the restaurant landscape is changing so quickly,” said Orrego. He didn’t set out to start a business, but in 20198, a big BC restaurant chain approached him while he was working on another problem and Cuboh was born.
 
“We didn’t actually have any money at all so there was no way for us to navigate the financial aspect of the business. We literally had to figure out how to pay rent. Once we got to the stage where fundraising was a viable scenario, it took us eight months to raise $50,000. It got very close to the point where we weren’t able to continue anymore.” He said he taught himself how to code because he couldn’t afford to hire somebody else to do it.
 
The benefit of bootstrapping the business he says is that you learn very quickly if your idea is viable or not. “People always want to be nice, so nobody will tell you your product is bad. Being able to monetize very early cuts through all that. There’s companies that go years without figuring out that there’s not actually something they’re solving,” he said. 
 
If he was to give advice to his younger self, he said he would put himself out there a lot more, going to events and meeting people before his company was at the investable stage. The biggest problem he said he sees for young entrepreneurs is analysis paralysis, they want everything to be perfect before they get going.
 

Jim Southcott
Partner
Redshift Collective

Jim-Southcott.jpg
With everyone working from home now during Covid-19, it’s an opportunity to capture the creativity that’s born out of the shift in routine, says Jim Southcott, Partner at Redshift Collective. 

“Often where people are most creative isn’t in the office. It’s often out for a walk, in the shower, listening to music, right after they wake up and before they go to bed,” said Southcott.

In some organizations, Southcott said that the dominant voice in the room or a big ego tends to shut people down, rather than share their ideas they learn, in some cultures, to keep their head down. “There are some great tools to level the playing field and make sure every voice is heard. Get them thinking in parallel ways so they’re not fighting for airtime. Get them to a place where they feel safe. When there isn’t the pressure of deadlines in the same way, use the time to figure out new ways to work together,” he said.

Southcott’s company, Redshift Collective grew out of his consulting work at family business Southcott Strategy. His wife Andrea and daughters Kirsten and Lauren are still part of the company today. 

“It’s really cool, the top line is that we love it and feel blessed. They still hang out in their off hours, so it must work well,” he laughed. “We really go out of our way to have some good boundaries and good ongoing feedback. We’ve also sought out a number of experts in family businesses on things like how to run a family board meeting,” he said. 

“We do a lot of work with CEOs facing digital disruption. A lot of our clients are in the business to business space so they’re not businesses that were born digitally,” said Southcott.  “A foundation is starting with the team to build their own creativity and build that creativity into groups. Often in organizations failure is a bad word. Teams need to take risks and chances. Don’t be afraid to fail and be wrong,” he said.

 He said he hopes that youth participating in his workshop come away with a sense of more creative confidence, a new creative energy and rekindling that confidence and that spark. 

Brodie Whitney 
Founder, President and CEO
Facing Dragons

Brodie-Whitney.jpg
Brodie Whitney has been an entrepreneur ever since he was twelve. He started with a paper route, then began a drum-making business and that quickly grew into all different types of businesses. Back then, “There wasn’t a label like there is now for anxiety and ADD,” he said.

Growing up in a remote village in British Columbia, he said he would look around at the adults around him and “they were just getting by,” he said, and he struggled with the idea of working for someone else and having a nine to five job. “I really struggled with the idea of myself in that role.” 

He describes a crisis of sorts that he found himself in in the middle of the forest, asking 
“Who am I really, how do I fit in and what’s my role in the world.” He said, “I had so much anxiety that I just blacked out and collapsed.” 

It was then that he realized “In that fear is your growth” and, “the greatest challenges that we face are our greatest opportunities.” He decided to stop waiting for someone else to inspire him and make the decision to do so himself. 

Now, he has worked with some of the top coaching teams on the planet, including Tony Robbins, and created Facing Dragons, a mixed reality game focused on mental health and a career path finder quest that helps young people overcome their challenges, learn life skills and find their purpose. 

“Having a tool to help clarify your goals and what’s most important I’ve found to be really helpful,” he said.

The idea for the game came from walking into his son’s room when he had been playing video games for hours. Instead of getting angry that he wasn’t doing schoolwork or his chores, Whitney asked “What is it about these games that’s so engaging, and what if we could recreate this level of engagement for people in our life?” That’s how Facing Dragons was born. The game helps young people lean into their curiosity and find the answers they already have within them.

“No matter what path you take life is going to throw things at you, so you might as well take the path that makes you happy,” he said. 

Brandon Wright
Co-Founder & CEO
BRNKL

Brandon-Wright.jpg
Brandon Wright used to develop security systems in the Middle East for royalty. One of his favourite memories from the job is securing the King of Dubai’s private island, he said. “We got to drive around in gold-plated golf carts.”
 
He used that expertise to build BRNKL, a company that builds both hardware and software for monitoring boats. The idea came to him after his own sailboat broke moorage and he realized there was nothing like this available on the market at the consumer level. 
 
“The big challenge is obviously financially,” said Wright. “BRNKL is bootstrapped, we got a little help from family but we bootstrapped. We financed everything ourselves.”
 
Wright said he got involved with the Youth Innovation Showcase because of his passion for inspiring young people. “I’ve got a five year old daughter and I’m super motivated to help her see what’s possible, and inspire young people and young adults and help them become engineers and business people. I wanted to help people see that these opportunities aren’t as scary as they seem.”