In our “new phase” of Inspiring Australia in the ACT, one of the things we want to achieve is to encourage young people to engage with the sciences and also innovation and entrepreneurship as a career pathway.

I had a meeting with the amazing team at Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre, who had found that when working with young adults on entrepreneurial thinking and skills, they often had no experience of creative idea generation, developing business ideas and marketing strategies, and pitching concepts. And so, they developed the idea of piloting a Teen Start Up Camp for teenagers to develop entrepreneurial skills, whilst working on STEM-based problems.

 

So, Inspiring Australia ACT sponsored the first Teen Start-Up Camp! Teams of teens came together to come up with an idea for a product or a service that provides a solution to global issues and challenges in the areas of:

  • energy
  • communication
  • health

To help spark the creative ideas, the Lighthouse team gathered some inspiring speakers in each of the problem areas to put some context and clarity around what are really “big picture” problems. So the teams got to listen to Lachlan Blackhall, from Reposit Power, Ken Kroeger from Seeing Machines and Francis Owusu from Kulture Break. What I really found inspiring about listening to all these people talk was the amazing brain power and passion that Canberra has! These businesses are truly ground-breaking.

All pumped up and ready to go, the teams then had to work out what problem they were trying to solve, research to make sure it was a problem, and come up with a solution! For this part of the day, the teams were joined by a wide variety of mentors – entrepreneurs, youth workers, err Inspiring Australia program managers(!) who helped them with the brainstorming process and idea refinement.

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Now, not all of the teams found this process easy! There were a couple of teams who came to the weekend with a product/service already formed as an idea. Other teams had only just met each other that morning and had to start the brainstorming process from scratch, and I mean completely from the beginning. It was (as always) also interesting to watch interpersonal skills and team dynamics in action! There were definitely some interesting synergies going on there!

All this thinking is hard work, so through lunchtime, the kids were treated to more inspiration – this time a Tech Showcase, coordinated by the Canberra Entrepreneur. The idea was to show how technology can be utilised as a tool to help solve problems. The participants enjoyed displays and hands-on activities from the Creative Element, WindLab, and Made For.Me (again, all Canberra-based entrepreneurs!).

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The next day was all about the pitches! Teams had a short “how to pitch” workshop and then they had to put theory into practice. The teams had to explain their idea and how it solved a problem and then explain how it might become a business. After lunch, it was crunch time – presenting to a judging panel of investors, industry experts and entrepreneurs, and err, Inspiring Australia program managers!

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After some debate, we awarded first place to Novice Coders, who wanted to create a platform to connect new coders with mentors to help them develop their skills.

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Second place went to the girls of Charge, who were developing anti-bullying software on social media platforms, that detected incorrect usage of terms such as “gay” and “spastic” which are in common use amongst teens, but have significant negative impact.

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And third place went to Homonavitas, who wanted to be able to convert the energy in the soles of shoes whilst walking to usable energy.

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The best part of the whole weekend for me was watching these kids grapple with concepts like problem-solving and product development. Every team managed to present an idea and no matter how polished the final pitch, all the teams learned something about working as part of a team and innovative thinking.

The Lighthouse team is now looking at how to take this program into schools, so a wider audience can be reached and taught entrepreneurial skills from a younger age. To start with though, they are going to run a school holiday program in January 2016. If you know high school aged kids who may be interested, you can contact them at enquiries@lighthouseinnovation.com.au or ring (02) 6163 8300.