After a week packed with activities, pitches and hard work, the MaRS Future Leaders 2014 summer camp has come to an end. The next generation of entrepreneurs congregated at MaRS to invent and test original business ideas, pitch in front of judges and learn the critical skills that will lead them to future success.

Each pitch demonstrated creativity, quality and originality. The students pitched confidently before the judges and a packed auditorium, with ideas that ranged from eco-friendly shoes that charge your phone to transit notification apps. The groups refined and pivoted their business ideas with the help from two Future Leaders facilitators: Ryan Burwell and Chris Giantsopoulos. Ryan, education lead of Twenty One Toys, worked with the junior cohort, while Chris, facilitator of entrepreneurship education at MaRS, led the senior cohort for the duration of the five-day camp.

Chris and senior cohort (left) and Ryan with junior student (right)
Chris and senior cohort (left) and Ryan with junior student (right)

I sat down with both Chris and Ryan to discuss their students and the Future Leaders experience.

Sarah Aspler: Why did you want to get involved with the Future Leaders program?

Chris Giantsopoulos: Future Leaders is a crucially important part of the MaRS fabric. I’m finding that kids at every age have amazing ideas, and Future Leaders is a great opportunity to harness that creativity and put a little bit of process around it. The kids leave with a proven entrepreneurial process that they can follow in any venture or job they have. I wish I’d had something like this when I was younger as I truly believe there is a lot of value in it.

Ryan Burwell: It’s a really unique program. I love that it asks students to create something. Often we ask students to repeat information back to us, as opposed to getting them to create something new and innovative, which is exactly what this program does.

SA: What did your students do that impressed you the most?

CG: I noticed that at the beginning the kids were slow to get started, but as we moved forward, you could see them getting more engaged and then fully immersed in the program. As they became more engaged, they were able to move very quickly. They absorbed information, made decisions and moved on them. They were able to pivot and make decisions very rapidly, which are valuable skills for entrepreneurs.

RB: The most impressive thing they did was to be very nimble in their approaches to their ideas. About half of the groups switched ideas on the Wednesday of the camp—not because their first ideas weren’t excellent, but because they saw an opportunity with a more innovative approach. Having the confidence and flexibility to do that is very impressive.

SA: What do you think are the key takeaways that students got from this program?

CG: I think that they very clearly understand the concept of value propositions: solving a problem with a solution that provides value to a target customer is a key piece. They are also able to really understand what entrepreneurship means, because they have lived it in this one-week experience. They have seen through a window into the real life of an entrepreneur.

RB: I hope they learn that the ingredients of innovation go beyond coming up with an idea in one week and that they can take the ideas presented this week and use them going forward. I hope they take skills such as focused communication, resilience and group problem-solving and apply them in their everyday schooling and beyond.

SA: Now that you’ve had an opportunity to meet with young entrepreneurs, do you believe our future is in good hands?

CG: I’m excited about it! They’re innovative, reactive and quick to pivot and understand concepts. The really cool thing about them is that they are already so integrated into technology that they know what potential solutions can and can’t do. These students have an inventory of creativity that they can apply to everything they do.

RB: Definitely. Hopefully I’ll be working for some of these kids some day!

Read the Future Leaders Dispatch series to learn more about the program, students and facilitators.

Sarah Aspler

Sarah Aspler was a Communications Assistant at MaRS. Sarah recently graduated with a bachelor of technology from Ryerson University in Toronto. See more…