Solving Problems that Matter and Getting Paid for It

By Amira Zubairi

Recently, several outstanding young entrepreneurs, aged 12 to 18, saw their passions become a reality by taking part in ZerotoStartup, a program that allows youth to ideate, develop a product and present their solutions to solve real problems through technology.

The inaugural session of ZerotoStartup, was a joint initiative between Celestica and Ryerson University, which provided youth with experience in technology and entrepreneurship through a 13-week program. ZerotoStartup believes that young entrepreneurs should be given a chance to come up with solutions to address real life issues. Students often think outside the box but their ideas tend to be overlooked or not given a chance due to their age and assumptions of inexperience. During the program, youth can discover their personal strengths and understand the importance of working as a team, developing entrepreneurial skills and finding their passions.

The first cohort of youth participating in ZerotoStartup worked in teams to plan, design and develop a product that tackles an issue in the City of Toronto. These issues ranged from parking accessibility to encouraging commuters to take environmentally-conscious methods of transportation. At the end of the program, the students, who come from schools all across the Greater Toronto Area, presented their creative solutions to a panel of judges at Ryerson University on December 19, 2015.

Taking part in ZerotoStartup has given many youth, such as Patrick Burns, a chance to discover their interests and try new things.

With his team members, Burns, a 12-year-old student from Toronto, created a portable trainer bike that allows bikers to install a training program on their bike, rather than having to settle for a stationary bike at home or the gym.
Burns, who enjoys working with electronics and technology, says developing this product with a diverse team has not only helped him gain skills such as coding and programming, but also business and entrepreneurship.

“We all helped out with different groups, so I learned about different aspects of a startup,” said Burns.

When putting together their creative solutions, the students divided up tasks within their teams. While some worked on the programming and coding involved in their product, others worked on the business and marketing aspects.

Yamini Belmonn, a student in Grade 9, says the entire program helped understand the value of teamwork and stepping out of your comfort zone.

“If you want to accomplish anything in life, teamwork is really important,” said Belmonn, who helped develop EZPark, an app that allows drivers to find parking easily in Toronto. “Gaining different perspectives and looking at things from our perspective and the user’s’ perspective is really important.”

Students that participated in ZerotoStartup also expressed how their ventures helped them see their entrepreneurial capabilities.

Fahreen Bushra, who developed a product to make Torontonians more aware of their water consumption, says while she may not have seen herself as an entrepreneur before, having an idea and taking steps to make it come true has given her that confidence. Seeing young girls and women step out of their comfort zone, enter the entrepreneurship community and apply their technical skills is also something Bushra embraces.

“I’d like to see more women in this field and I hope to be one of those women in the future,” she said. “When I got in [to ZerotoStartup], believing in myself a little more and thinking that I can do stuff like this was pretty great.”

Like Burns, Belmonn and Bushra, several other students had the opportunity to build and apply new skills that allowed them to create effective solutions to existing problems in the city. While developing a product came with challenges, such as tricky 3D printers or having to make modifications to a prototype, the students were able to organize various apps and products that will be useful to building more sustainable communities in the future.

The aim for ZerotoStartup is to equip young entrepreneurs with the essential resources and skills to build their own futures and careers by taking risks, embracing innovation and seeing where technology and entrepreneurship emerge.

Julie Smithson, who watched the young entrepreneurs present their products, says encouraging 11 to 18-year-olds to think outside the box, go after their passions and choose what they want to do will only lead them to solving some of the world’s largest problems. Developing a product isn’t easy, but seeing the hard work the youth put into their ideas is extremely inspiring, she adds.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into actually building a company and going through the entire process,” said Smithson. “So kudos to them, they have a long road ahead of them.”

The teams that participated in ZerotoStartup’s inaugural program will continue to work with leaders and organizations in the City of Toronto, such as Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone and Celestica, to further develop and establish their products, and ultimately contribute to building a more sustainable community.

Are you a tinkerer? problem solver? or wanting to start a business? Apply for ZerotoStartup’s second cohort.

Amira Zubairi is a third-year Journalism student at Ryerson University.

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