YouLaunch, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre’s (SSMIC) youth entrepreneurship program, is celebrating a wildly successful freshman year. Since launching in 2015, YouLaunch has directly reached over 3,000 local youth; worked with 7 youth start-ups, two of which pitched their ideas to investors at the first ever Bear Pit – a local Dragon’s Den style pitch event; helped created 10 jobs in Sault Ste. Marie which attracted and retained local talent; and helped local youth clients raise nearly $100,000 in funding and grants from various government agencies and investors to start their business.
YouLaunch works within the community and with local educational institutions to promote the importance of youth entrepreneurship for individuals ages 29 and under. The inaugural year saw YouLaunch introduce nationally recognized programming in partnership with both the Head Start in Business and Junior Achievement programs, and the coordination of over 17 free workshops, guest speakers, professional development and networking events for youth. Additional YouLaunch events included numerous Global Entrepreneurship Week and Small Business Week activities, hosting the world’s first World EntreBREWneur Day, launching Grub @ The Hub (a monthly luncheon and networking series), collaborating with St. Mary’s College Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program, and ongoing partnerships and activities with Algoma University and Sault College.
“We support clients of all ages, across many industries, and areas of expertise through various business development initiatives such as marketing and fundraising strategies, business model and modernization plans, accessing public and private investments, talent acquisition, networking and IT,” said Gerry Bugyra, Business Development Manager, SSMIC. “In particular, our YouLaunch program is very unique from other youth entrepreneurship programs in the province in that it is a team of three people, each targeting different cohorts of youth and distinct partnerships with our local college and university.”
YouLaunch has been working with North Origin Games Inc., a Sault Ste. Marie based software development studio that focuses on video game production which incorporates entertaining and educational Canadian based content. The company has already released one title, Mind Weaver, on both the Google Play and Apple App stores and plans to release a Windows desktop game in the near future.
North Origin Games consists of cofounders Joshua Richards, President/Art Director; Jenna Mathewson, Treasurer/Character Lead; and Devon Richards, Tech Lead/3D Generalist. The team says that “YouLaunch and the Innovation Centre have been essential partners in starting our business. They have gone above and beyond in terms of support and service. Their friendly staff has filled much of the holes in our business knowledge allowing us to focus on the building of the business. With easy to understand grants and efficient staff they have been extremely helpful. We look forward to continuing to work with them moving forward.”
Heuristext, another one of YouLaunch’s start-up clients, is a company leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to change how users consume online information. The company is a seed-stage, for-profit social enterprise. Founded by Melissa Kargiannakis, a Masters in Health Information System graduate, MaRS Studio Y fellowship Alumna, and recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader Award, SSMIC mentors Kargiannakis as a YouLaunch incubator client. She has just returned from California as the only Canadian, and one of only nine women from around the world, accepted into an intensive and exclusive Women’s Startup Lab program.
YouLaunch has supported Heuristexts’ growth and development with business strategy advice, which led to many achieved milestones. In addition, Heuristext was one of two start-ups that participated at the Bear Pit this past year, pitching to 40 local investors, business and community leaders. The financial investment raised with the support of YouLaunch has led to initial patent submissions, continued product research and development, as well as business development and pitch training to prepare for key investment opportunities.
Melissa Kargiannakis, Founder and Managing Director of Heuristext says, “Starting in Sault Ste. Marie, compared to larger urban areas, has had a significant advantage due to working directly and closely with the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and its YouLaunch team.”
Scoutr – a web-based platform company looking to improve the overall experience of young athletes and teams, is led by Stormer Santana, and is currently in seed-stage, meaning it is being developed.
“Since the inception of my business, YouLaunch have greatly helped in my success through the start-up process,” says Santana. “The funding programs offered by the Innovation Centre have made an exponential difference in the growth and development of my business. The continuous support and extensive involvement of the staff have made navigating the tumultuous journey of applying for funding, accessing market research and launching a start-up incredibly useful. Essentially, the resources and support offered by the Innovation Centre and YouLaunch are invaluable when considering to launch a start-up.”
YouLaunch works closely with both Algoma University and Sault College through the On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities Program. YouLaunch is funded by MaRS Discovery District, and Ontario Centres of Excellence provides funds in collaboration with Algoma University and Sault College to help build an entrepreneurial culture and environment for youth in Sault Ste. Marie.