Imagine having a dedicated space where you can brainstorm, ideate, plan, and even execute any project you can think of. For Angelique Dack, a fourth-year political communications student at Ontario Tech, that place exists: Brilliant Catalyst, a one-stop hub for innovation in Oshawa.
“They help students create their own startups,” says Dack, who joined Brilliant Catalyst on the advice of three separate mentors. “They take on students, learn about their businesses, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and offer what resources they can to help the students and their businesses grow.”
Brilliant Catalyst at Ontario Tech University joined the University of Calgary and 11 other Canadian post-secondary institutions in the Experience Ventures program, powered by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary, to inspire students’ creativity, resiliency, and future vision – to seize the future with the right skill set.
Brilliant Catalyst welcomes students from all disciplines. Most apply, but some are approached if there is the potential for a business opportunity.
Dack sums it up nicely: “Brilliant is a place that supports students who want to become entrepreneurs.”
Dack’s first experience with Experience Ventures at Brilliant Catalyst was connected to work she was already doing outside the classroom.
“A professor said, ‘Hey, this makes sense for the actual curriculars you’re doing. Why don’t you sign up and see how it goes?’”
She participated in a program called Community Pathways, which paired her with a business in downtown Oshawa. Dack created a database of nonprofit organizations in the city and identified gaps in their coverage. This allowed the business she was paired with to identify the service they could provide to the community.
“It was something I wanted to do anyway,” she said, “but I never would have been able to without the honorarium support of Experience Ventures.”
Experience Ventures provides honoraria to their participants, whether it be in a placement like Dack’s or in a hackathon, and this opens many avenues for students that would otherwise be closed.
As a native of Oshawa, Angelique is a frequent user and advocate of Durham Region Transit. For Brilliant Catalyst’s recent hackathon, the topic was cleantech and the target was to support Canada’s transition to net-zero by 2050.
Dack’s group centered their ideas around transportation. “Getting students back on the bus,” Dack said, “because of COVID, many people are avoiding public transportation.”
Her group’s solution? Create an app that incentivizes students to ride the bus by rewarding them with points and prizes like free coffee and redeemable coupons. The app would link to students’ Presto cards (refillable transit passes riders tap to pay their fares) to track their trips and reward them with points.
“There was a community aspect to it as well. We had a community tab where you could post challenges and guides about how to ride transit.”
“It was fun. It was a fun hackathon. Some groups don’t emphasize the fun factor. I felt challenged but also supported.”
The hackathon is an example of one of five types of entrepreneurial thinking placements offered through the Experience Ventures program. The goal is to empower students to develop and apply entrepreneurial thinking skills aimed at making them future ready – a great opportunity to generate ideas to solutions happening in our communities.
While ultimately the project wasn’t picked up, the collaborative nature of Brilliant Catalyst and Experience Ventures means the idea lives on. “I’ve had a lot of interest from other groups at Brilliant, so there is the possibility that it will live on with another group.”
That’s the real goal of an Experience Ventures’ entrepreneurial thinking placement at a place like Brilliant Catalyst. It’s not just a space to innovate but to share those innovations, expand on the work of others, and enrich not only the student members but their community as well. It’s a space where like-minded people can connect and bounce ideas off each other and share.
“You meet people outside your major, you make connections with mentors that will help you in postgrad, and you incorporate learnings from workshops into everything you do.”
Dack admits the most valuable element of working with Experience Ventures: “You get an honorarium to attend, which is a huge, huge sticking point and a massive barrier to participating in events like this [for many students.] Dedicated time for me to sit there, take notes, and not have to worry about anything else.”
“We have another hackathon that I’m helping to lead. It’s called Food for Thought and we’re tackling the challenge of food access on campus. How we can improve it for students who are experiencing food insecurity.”
Dack is eager to apply what she learned from the cleantech hackathon to this one, but this time as a leader.
“Taking some of the templates from the other hackathon and applying them to this one to make things a bit easier on the planning side.”
Sharing ideas to improve the community. Pretty brilliant.