The Sault’s first youth entrepreneurship conference saw 175 young entrepreneurs come together to network, hear from successful young entrepreneurs, and take part in workshops in an event that one organizer said “went incredibly well.”
“Attendees were really pleased with the speakers and their level of expertise, engagement and passion, especially being young and Canadian!” said Angela Corcoran, manager of marketing and communications at Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre.
The Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES) Algoma provided attendees with a variety of breakout sessions, “which were very valuable to anyone interested in entrepreneurship,” she said.
The conference had a specific goal in mind.
YES Algoma, — meant for youth aged 16 to 29 — aimed “to create a regional network of young entrepreneurs who will have the confidence, skills and network to be agents of change in their own communities and throughout the region,” said Corcoran.
The event, over Sept. 21 and 22, featured keynote speakers Michele Romanow, an entrepreneur featured as a Dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den; Kendal Netmaker, one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous entrepreneurs; Manu “Swish” Goswami, an entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, and UN Youth Ambassador; and Ann Makosinski, a 19-year-old student at the University of British Columbia who created the Hollow Flashlight and E-Drink.
Makosinski addressed the young entrepreneurs on the first evening of the event, just after dinner, during dessert.
She spoke of her own path, from her childhood spent building toys out of “garbage” she found around the house to her inspiration for the creation of her first real invention, the hollow flashlight.
“I would take garbage from around the house, I would take my hot glue gun then I would piece together inventions,” Makosinski told the audience.
“Of course they never worked, but the idea of taking the resources around me and piecing them together to make something better or that could solve one of my own problem, which was not having any toys, was kind of implemented from the start.”
Makosinski spent much of her youth attending science fairs, participating in 10 from Grade six to Grade 12.
Her first truly successful invention came about from one of those projects, as the result of a conversation with a friend in the Philippines.
Makosinski learned that her friend had failed her grade at school because she had to help her family with chores before she could do her schoolwork, so she often had no light to see her books by the time she was able to study.
“So I was really shocked that someone around the world, a different place but still the same age as me, just like me, didn’t have something as simple as light.
“So I decided to base my next science fair project around that, which I called hollow flashlight, which runs off the heat of the human hand.”
Makosinski credits her unusual childhood with helping to foster her creativity.
“Well, because I wasn’t given a lot of toys, I had to be creative in order to entertain myself,” Makosinski told Sault This Week after her talk.
She also feels that the arts have been important in fostering her creative spirit.
“I think my love for film has really influenced how I think about life and what is realistic and what is not, usually I’m always unrealistic,” she said.
In her talk and afterwards, Makosinski focuses on the importance of the arts to her — she grew up watching silent films with her parents, and is now an English Literature major at university.
“It should really be STEAM, not just STEM,” she said, arguing that the common acronym for the disciplines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics should really include arts as well.
Makosinksi’s talk, along with the rest of the events at the conference, was made possible thanks to the organizing efforts of YouLaunch, a division of the SSMIC that was created in 2015 to promote youth entrepreneurship.
The idea came about almost as soon as YouLaunch was formed, said Corcoran.
“We have always wanted to have a high calibre, engaging and informative conference of this kind. We hold events and workshops frequently, but never on this large of a scale,” she said.
“Last year around this time we learned about the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport, Ontario 150 Grant program.
“The application was extensive and in-depth, outlining our hopes for reaching Algoma youth and inspiring future entrepreneurship and change makers.”
When organizers learned their grant had been approved earlier this year, they got to work right away.
“It allowed us to go full steam ahead and plan what we hoped would be the first and greatest youth entrepreneurship conference to ever take place in the Sault,” said Corcoran.
In addition to Ontario 150 funding, YouLaunch partnered with several local groups for the summit, including Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., YSI (Youth Social Infrastructure) Collaborative, and Sault Community Career Centre.
“In addition, local organizations in support of entrepreneurship in the region hosted various break-out sessions for youth to attend, including Wawa Economic Development Corp., BDC, Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, UP Lottery and Gaming, Cavera, Jeronamo Solutions, NORDIK Institute, and OLG.”
Strive Young Professionals hosted a networking event, as well as YSI Collaborative, said Corcoran.
All youth from the Algoma region were invited. Corcoran said 15 to 20 came from outside of the Sault.
“We were fortunate that through the Ontario 150 grant we were able to provide travel and accommodation stipends to guests visiting from out of town to encourage attendance and participation beyond Sault Ste. Marie.”
Though the group can’t make any promises yet, Corcoran says YouLaunch “would love if we could make YES Algoma an annual event.”