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The Big Ideas: Creativity, Design and Innovation Camp

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario) with campers (photo by John Guatto, U of T News)

How do you develop the next generation of business-savvy, science-literate entrepreneurs? Start with a summer camp designed and created by innovation experts.

The Big Ideas: Creativity, Design and Innovation Camp engaged 450 youth across southern Ontario—from Hamilton, to Toronto, to Ottawa—this past summer. The camps were developed and run by the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity (ICP), the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Actua, a national charity that engages youth in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education).

The camp, which provided youth with an in-depth experience in innovation and understanding of the business of science and engineering, used a curriculum which follows the core elements of the innovation process currently taught at the Rotman School of Management.

“It started as a question. Can we teach a young audience, as young as 10, the core elements of innovation,” said Professor Roger Martin, former dean of Rotman School of Management and current chair of the Institute of Competitiveness and Prosperity. “Now that it is up and running, and we see that these kids are fully engaged, we have an answer. Yes, of course we can.”

Reaching youth with transformational enrichment experiences is nothing new for Actua. The national not-for-profit organization annually engages more than 225,000 youth in every corner of the country—regardless of their background, socio-economic situation, ability or gender—with STEM enrichment experiences.

“Every young Canadian has an idea and they all have the capacity to be leaders,” said Jennifer Flanagan, president and chief executive officer of Actua. “By adding a business lens to the hands-on science programming we've been doing for years, we’re going one step further towards preparing our youth for the knowledge-based economy and science-focused workforce of tomorrow.”

Actua members, located at the University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, York University and McMaster University were instrumental in delivering the camp curriculum.

The curriculum was designed to be both educational and fun.

“We guide these young aspiring entrepreneurs as they discover empathy and need-finding on the first day, then ideation and prototyping on the second, and finally, we introduce business strategy,” said Martin as he described the campers’ five-day journey through design thinking and innovation.

"Through it all, they build confidence in their ability to express creative ideas, they learn to appreciate feedback and they become increasingly inspired to take an idea and turn it into an enterprise.”

The Big Ideas: Creativity, Design and Innovation Camp was made possible through funding provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

“This is an investment in innovation and in our youth,” said The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario). “Our Government is pleased to support projects that provide our young people with the tools they need to reach their potential—in innovation, in research, in business, and in STEM careers. They will ensure southern Ontario remains competitive and prosperous for years to come.”

All partners, along with their funder, gathered together, once again, to celebrate the success of the Big Ideas: Creativity, Design and Innovation Camp on the U of T campus Sept. 27. Joined by some of the camp’s summer participants, friends of the Rotman School of Management, Actua, ICP and media were able to experience first-hand the impact the camp has made on these entrepreneurs in the making, innovators in training. 

Ken McGuffin is a writer with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.