Insipiring Play

Feb 12, 2013
Taylor Jones films Liam Dowling’s presentation during Mad Hatter’s Student Leadership Conference last Thursday.

If they were looking to inspire the next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs at the first student leadership conference of its kind held at Tannery building last week, they found more than a willing audience.

In fact, a tour of the Communitech Hub had one of the more than 220 local high school students who attended last Thursday’s session, hosted by Mad Hatter Technology Inc., calling it a “Chucky Cheese for adults.” The technological playground is trying to create bleeding edge innovation and opened more than a few eyes to the possibilities available for students right in this region.

That was the plan, said Nicole Stuber, organizer of the day meant to help high school students find their passion and potentially turn it into a business idea.

She said the students taking the tour of the facility were there to hear about inspiration, collaboration and what the sharing of ideas can do for young people with a vision. And there was a roster of young high-tech entrepreneurs willing to share their story with them including blogger Natalie MacNeil, the driving force behind the website called She Takes on the World, and Taylor Jones, founder of Dear Photograph and partner in a new company Dandy, which was just accepted into Commuitech’s Hyperdrive program.

“Mad Hatter thought this was a great project because we have so many inspirational people in the community,” said Stuber, who handles public relations for cutting edge marketing firm. “It’s great to hear their stories, and many of them are still in their twentysomethings too, so it’s great to show the high school students that in a few years, or even now, they can implement the ideas that they have.”

It’s not lost on them that they are the most connected generation in history, with technology coming second nature to most of them. It seemed like every student in the room had a smartphone, and they were tweeting and texting running commentaries on what they were hearing on a big digital display.

There was even a creative competition for the students to come up with their own marketable ideas and plans, with the winning team getting to spend some time to workshop their proposal in Tannery space. One of the team’s in the running had to leave early, but still managed to make their final pitch via a YouTube video they made on the bus trip home.

That’s how seamless technology is for the next generation, and Stuber said all they need is a little push to fully explore it.

“As we heard throughout the day, even if somebody doesn’t think your idea is great, if you wait for somebody to tell you have a great idea it might not be the right fit,” said Stuber. “Following your dreams is very important.

“Failure can lead to success. You might try something, and it might not work out, but you can learn from those opportunities and it can make you stronger.”

One of those inspirational stories came from Taylor Jones, a former Conestoga College student from Kitchener whose Dear Photograph website takes people’s faded photographs and asks them to recreate the setting juxtaposing the old with the new with some profound results.

His new project, called Dandy, works on the premise that everybody has an idea for an application and his new company helps make it a reality. It creates an online community that determines the best of those ideas before designing and testing them. It splits the profits among the contributors once the idea takes off.

“We’re trying to get them to think outside of the box,” said Jones. “Like with Dear Photograph, I talked about having an idea and going out and doing it instead of just leaving it.

“That’s what our region is about right now, and they are the next set of eyes that will be looking at what happens here in the Communitech space. When you encourage creativity you encourage innovation.”

Ashara Meidell, a Grade 12 student from St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School, said her parents often ask her what she’s going to do for a career. A session like the one held at the Tannery building suggested to her the world is her oyster and there are opportunities right here in her own backyard.

“Even if you don’t know what you’re going to do right out of high school, which seems like something that is drilled into our heads, there is still hope that you can do something great,” she said. “You can take the things you like to do, are passionate about and have fun doing, and apply that to your career.

“We have so many ideas that have great potential but you might not feel like you have the resources to do it. Something like this, with access to the mentors available here, actually gives you great ways on how to get your ideas started.”

By Bob Vrbanac, Chronicle Staff