ZERO TO STARTUP: An intensive technology start up program for young makers, entrepreneurs & innovators

Zero to Start Up is an intensive 13 week program where youth discover their personal strengths, develop entrepreneurial skills, work with real world tools and technologies, and practice working in fast-paced creative teams.


In teams, participants will ideate, design and prototype a product that attempts to solve real problems using the latest technologies. Teams will then present their product at an end of program showcase in the style of a pitch to potential investors.
Participants will be exposed to business tools and processes used prolifically in startup communities – design thinking, persona marketing and business model canvasing – to build a physical technology product with a real user in mind. This product will be prototyped at Toronto’s newest downtown makerspace using 3D printing, laser cutting, electronics, and where applicable, Internet of Things technology.

There are no prerequisites for their level of technology or business know-how and teams are allocated based on personal strength surveys in order to distribute skills and personality types.


“During the 13 weeks of Zero to Start Up I had the pleasure of teaching a group of talented young teens” says Meera, one of the Maker Educators. “They all came in with many ideas and an eagerness to learn”.


Inspired by the theme “Future Cities”, the bright minds of Fall 2016 cohort designed three very impressive projects: Trash Hoops, Compost to Watts and Aquify. They were given the challenge of solving real world problems faced by the City of Toronto – and they did. Trash Hoops designed a creative way to encourage better waste management and Compost to Watts designed a method for getting electricity from compost.


From left to right, teams Compost to Watts, Trash Hoops & Aquify at the Zero to Startup Fall 2016 showcase at Ryerson University. 


Team Aquify set out to reduce the need to transport water over large distances and make clean, drinking water more accessible to everyone with a device that converts humidity in the air into water in a matter of seconds. Meera proudly explains the process that led to the finished product;


“They started off at first with the goal of finding creative ways to revitalise dead patches of land in the summer, like household gardens and community parks in the City. However, as the weeks went on they soon realized that the potential of their project went beyond reviving dead patches of land. So Team Aquify decided to market their product as a device that creates a more accessible and renewable source of water for households.”


Aquify was a determined and ambitious group from day 1, Meera couldn’t help but notice that they were often the first to show up for class and the last ones to leave. They were the first ones to hand in their parts list, the first ones to start using the laser cutter for building the outside case for their device and they prided themselves on adopting the motto: Measure twice, cut once.


 Team Aquify presenting their projects at the final showcase in front of a panel of judges at Ryerson University.


Aquify is not the only impressive project to result from this program. Since the very first round of Zero to Startup, the response has been amazing. Two teams were invited to present their projects on the Discovery channel for Invention Week. One teen was even employed because their employer was so impressed with their Zero to Startup project. And just last spring, a City Engineer sat on the panel of judges, and was so impressed with the Smart Street Light project with a mesh network of air quality sensors, they invited the group to come present in front of City council. Arpad Hevizi, Celestica Senior Vice President, attended the very first Zero to Startup and was overheard saying that if the myBike project – a programmable bicycle training smart device – was actually on the market, he would purchase it on the spot.
Zero to Startup participants are immersed into the world of technology from Week One. An engineer from the city of Toronto introduces the theme and explains the challenges facing Toronto and other cities relating to climate change, energy consumption, pollution, traffic, health, etc. and then the jump into a quick introduction to electronics and a lesson on programming via coding a robot car.

Week 2 & 3 are dedicated to the Internet of Things (IoT). In groups, participants are given various robotic challenges in a hands-on, interactive Arduino & Particle lesson. They are introduced to HTML/CSS and the concepts of personal branding by building websites from scratch in Thimble by Mozilla. In the first three weeks, they learn design thinking (how to understand a problem, observe and create a point of view). They have the chance to explore a lot of different subjects so they can learn where their strengths are and additional challenges are available to advanced students so that everyone can move at their own pace.

By week 4, they have their first test run: they have 3 hours to design and build a working prototype, create a website and create a sales pitch to present to the teacher by the end of class. The entire class becomes a single company with four main teams: Hardware, Industrial Design, Web Design/ Data Visualization, Business Model to develop a Guerrilla Garden Gnome, a smart device that will alert a community of people when a dead patch of land needs attention. By the end of the class, the business model team presents their pitch and company to the Maker Educator, as if it were they were pitching to the City like professionals. 


Week 5 & 6 are all about planning their own individual future cities projects, including creating paper/ cardboard prototypes, researching all electronic parts required, deciding individual roles and creating a business name. They pitch their ideas to the rest of the class who provide constructive feedback and help them narrow down their best project ideas. In their final groups, they research all electronic parts required for building the final prototype, and create an organized team they will turn into a business, complete with a website and sales pitch.

Week 7 to Week 12 are all about building. With the help of an experienced mentor, they test and iterate product development, complete their working prototype that they will actually build on site at STEAMLabs, a downtown Toronto makerspace equipped with a laser cutter, CNC router and 3D printers. The program is designed to be flexible, teaching technical skills based on the individual needs of the groups, so they can learn as they go. Frequently, all teams learn how to use the laser cutter for the building of the physical prototype, and then there are usually specialized skills needed by only one team. For example, when the Compost to Watts group needed specialized hardware for converting biomass energy to electricity, they worked with the help of mentors to find solutions. Each group is in charge of documenting their progress in a blog, so they can show not just their final product but their entire process, for high school, university or job applications.


And on the last week, all teams have the chance to show off all of their hard work and present their pitches to a panel of external judges of industry professionals, as well as their friends, family, and of course, their Maker Education teachers.


“As the final showcase week approached I felt as if I were a mother watching her kids on their graduation day” says Meera, “They had truly evolved into young adults as they presented their products in front of the panel of judges. Kids already grow up with technology all around them, so it’s more important now than ever to teach them how to create, modify and program technology for their futures.”


The Fall 2016 Zero to Startup cohort presenting their projects at the final showcase in front of a panel of judges at Ryerson University.


In a 2015 report by research firm IDC Canada, Canadian Internet of Things 2015–2018 Key Addressable Use Case Forecast by Industry, they predict that the Canadian Internet of Things (IoT) market will be worth more than $6.5 billion by 2018.  And specifically, two of the fastest growing sectors in the entire IoT industry are the consumer and manufacturing sectors, which are exactly the focus of Zero to Startup.


The teens also learn invaluable 21rst century job skills, like critical thinking, problem solving & collaboration, which are often overlooked in most high school education or vocational training program, but so essential to a successful career. “They learn that creation is more fulfilling when on a team”, says Kathryn Barrett, a STEAMLabs Maker Educator, “and the support received from one another is something that can’t be learned from a text book”.


STEM and Maker Education are all essential for today’s youth to stay competitive in tomorrow’s economy, and Zero to Start Up is an invaluable program that empower youth, and allows them to step into the makers, entrepreneurs and innovators of the future they were meant to be.


Learn more about Zero to Start Upregister or to apply for a scholarship by filling out this application form.

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