Hamilton's Innovation Factory is helping out a new group of entrepreneurs. The regional innovation centre does this every day, but this group is unique:
The Socialites, the team name they affectionately assigned themselves for being social, are kids, aged 11 to 15, and are easily the youngest entrepreneurs IF has ever worked with, said Keanin Loomis, IF's chief operating officer. And this group of young teens already has a successful product.
These entrepreneurs became passionate about finding a solution for loneliness among seniors upon hearing an alarming statistic on the evening television news.
"Ten seniors every week try to commit suicide," said Jeevan Vasdani, 12. "We realized that could be our grandparents."
Bridging the generation gap
The team developed 'Bridging the Gap,' a toolkit that aims to build understand amongst two generations that don't have a lot in common. It uses cards with questions about culture and history to spark meaningful conversation.
They've done what most entrepreneurs do — spend hours in front of a whiteboard brainstorming product ideas, consult with professionals, perform endless research and made a product that fills a need.
The group of seven, including Vasdani, Liam MacLeod, Liam Maloney, Rebecca Bedford, Campbell Sommerville, Justin Goping and Tristan Verna, are involved with Ebots, an Oakville-based educational robotics studio.
There, the group who hail from Hamilton, Oakville, Mississauga and Toronto, make up a First Lego League (FLL) team and recently returned from the FLL world competition in St. Louis, Missouri at the end of April, attended by roughly 25,000 people worldwide.
The competition is divided into three parts, Verna explained: robots, project and core values, where they are evaluated on teamwork, problem solving and social skills.
"They're the hook," Vasdani said, of the Lego robots.
It's the project portion, for which the Socialites created Bridging the Gap, that is really making a splash and fostering bonds between the kids.
Pam and John Catricala, the couple who own and operate Ebots, estimate the Socialites put in at least 100 hours since January, on top of their Lego robotics work, working on Bridging the Gap.
Almost sold out
"We tried it out in [local] seniors' homes and hospices," said MacLeod, of the product development they did. Bridging the Gap got positive feedback all around. In fact, the seniors they met started used the toolkit to start conversation with each other.
"A 20 minute tea break turned into a two-hour conversation," Vasdani said.
The toolkit has even made the group reflect on their own experiences with the grandparents. Goping, 13, wrote a letter to the Catricalas about the toolkit, reflecting on the passing of his own grandfather last summer who he didn't talk to very much.
Goping wrote he plans to use the toolkit with other relatives and said, "I could tell I was making a difference."
The Socialites came back with no trophy, which makes them the only team in Ebots' 5-year history to go to competition and not come back with hardware.
"Nothing," Vasdani echoed, his sense of humor coming through.
Maloney, trying to redeem the group, quickly added their robot did come in sixth place and they were up for an innovation award for their project.
But they don't seem terribly fazed. The Socialites have a product for purchase on Ebots' website that is practically sold out - they need to place another order to their manufacturer soon. They did a product presentation for IF in April and plan to make a few more visits to senior's homes.
They also returned from St. Louis having an experience of a lifetime. The Socialites, along with two teams from Nova Scotia, represented Canada, one of 77 participating counties.
The kids sounded out the places they met teams from: Egypt, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Australia, England, Switzerland, the U.S., Sweden, Turkey, Norway.
While they were having a grand time, being social teens, they also picked up lessons they'll keep with them for a long time to come.
"They have adult sociability. It's just one of the life lesson that comes out of this," John Catricala said. "They understand they couldn't create this on their own. The group respects each other... Those are adult values."