It’s time for people in the Waterloo Region to rally behind its emerging entrepreneurs.
That’s the message from the team behind Waterloo Region’s Youth Creativity Fund (YCF), an idea incubator that just completed its first year of operation.
The YCF isn’t your typical program – think of it as a catalyst for change, fostering the next generation of creative thinkers and problem solvers.
To date, 216 kids have taken part in the program, which is led by the Business & Education Partnership of Waterloo Region. Eighty youth-led projects have received the green light, and the YCF has contributed over $62,000 to make those kids’ dreams a reality.
But now, leaders of the YCF are calling on people in the Waterloo Region – business owners, entrepreneurs and private donors – to help foster the spirit of entrepreneurship into the next generation by donating to the cause.
Building a cohort of entrepreneurs and creative thinkers doesn’t happen on its own, Scott Higgins, a BEP board member and one of the leaders behind the program, says.
“That entrepreneurial spirit has to be stimulated and seeded at a young age,” Higgins said. “Schools, by their nature, don't let them do this, and some kids don't have the opportunity to get extra funds from their parents.”
That’s where the YCF has stepped in, providing a spark to encourage kids to gain the confidence to push their ideas out into the world.
But it takes the support of the entire community to make that happen.
“We’ve got 800,000 people in Waterloo Region,” Higgins said. “If 10 per cent of them just donated 10 bucks, 20 bucks – the price of a lunch – then we've got tens of thousands of dollars to support the kids.”
It’s a good thing to be a factor in changing kids’ lives, Higgins says, especially when they represent the next wave of leaders.
Numbers from Statistics Canada also bolster the claim – the country needs plenty of new thinkers, kids ready to take their ideas to the next level.
Statistics Canada reports that Canada has 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs than it did 20 years ago — despite the fact that the population has grown by more than 10 million people over the same period.
Helping Waterloo Region’s youth get a head start by opening them up to the entrepreneurial process – pitching an idea, formulating a plan, watching that project either fail or succeed – will set up all Canadians, not just those in the Waterloo region, for success.
“Entrepreneurship is the highest form of social capital,” Higgins says. “If you create something, then you stimulate an economy and economy drives jobs and taxes, which allows you to do all the social good you want to do.”
But the first step is to give voice to the creatives, try to energize the passion behind building an idea.
The Story of InQuisitive
That includes kids like Muhammad Ali Naseer and Kean Rafael Floresca, two grade 11 students who came up with InQuisitive, a service to provide peer-to-peer learning completely free of charge.
Naseer came up with the idea for InQuisitive while he was working for Kumon, a privately-run tutoring service. He noticed that the school was packed between January and March, but attendance petered out and eventually steadied the rest of the year.
"I asked my boss why the busy rush during those months and he told me that those are the months where they offer the service for free," Naseer told Cambridge Today.
"This means that all of these kids are only going there, because it was free and they would not be able to otherwise."
That’s when Naseer had what Higgins calls “an epiphany moment,” thinking free tutoring should be offered all-year round.
Naseer and Fonseca applied for the YCF program, and the rest is history.
It all starts in the community
April Albano, Executive Director of BEP Waterloo Region, says helping administer the YCF has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.
“The YCF has been a huge success,” Albano said. “We've been overwhelmed by the response from the community. When youth hear about it, they're running to us, telling us their ideas, wanting to apply to the program.”
The application part of the process is straightforward, Albano said. The YCF website has step-by-step instructions on how to get your new idea in front of a selection committee made up of local representatives.
From there, there’s a brief interview with BEP staff. Those interview notes and applications are brought to the selection committee – made up of local volunteers including business leaders – who make the decisions on which project get funding.
“These students want to make a difference and want to try out their ideas,” Albano said. “They're either entrepreneurial projects, or ideas they have to make their community a better place. WIth both, they're trying to make a positive change in Waterloo region, whether that’s a school or their neighbourhood or family.”
But it all starts with community support.
“For this program to be sustainable and for us to continue on for many years, we need our local community and local funds supporting these youth,” Albano said.
All funds raised, no matter if it’s big or small, goes directly into these student projects.
The rewards, Albano said, go far beyond seeing a project to completion.
“Over and over again, the youth are telling us about their improved self esteem and confidence. They feel more respected and valued by the community and feel more positive towards their school and post secondary education. Through the process, they’ve also found abilities they didn't know they had.”
“Seeing the YCF take off in this way has been inspiring.”
And for more success stories, highlighting the YCF’s impact on the Waterloo Region, visit the program’s success stories.