My Summer at Shad Valley

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Summer– it’s best spent sleeping in and relaxing at the beach, right? Well, not always. It wasn’t for me and the sixty-four other fifteen to eighteen year old students who attended the Shad Valley program at Lakehead University this July.

Shad Valley is an intense month long summer enrichment program with a focus on science and entrepreneurship. It’s also a blast, easily the best month of July I’ve lived thus far.  There’s so much I’d like to share with readers about my time spent at Shad Valley, but I’ll focus on the aspect of the program that affected me the most: the business plan competition.

A key component of the Shad Valley program is a business plan competition among teams formed within each campus that leads to a national competition among all campuses. Ten university campuses across Canada–  Laval, Dahlhousie, UNB, Queen’s, UBC, McMaster’s, Memorial, Waterloo, Lakehead and Carleton– host the Shad Valley program for a group of fifty to sixty students each.

A new theme for the business plan competition is chosen each year. Teams are asked to create a patentable product idea that addresses the theme as best as possible while displaying scientific proof of concept and market potential. This year’s theme was ”Breaking Down Barriers for Canadian Children” paired with the following question: ”How can we improve the quality of life of children with disabilities?”. Seems like a simple topic to address, you say? Well, my team thought that too, until we started brainstorming and realized that the only disabilities we were familiar with were those that affected vision and hearing and those that required the use of wheelchairs.

The brainstorming process was painstakingly long, taking over two of the three weeks we were allotted to finalize a product idea and write a business plan. Through it we realized how much attention was focused on certain disabilities and how little was focused on others, that nearly everything we could think of had already been patented in Korea, and that children with disabilities were up against a multitude of challenges everyday, many of which could be addressed, but not completely tackled. In the end, we and the other Lakehead Shad teams were able to learn from our background research and come up with original product ideas that addressed the theme.

The idea my team decided to pursue, four days before the business plan submission deadline, was a special medical device designed for use by people (particularly children) with disabilities that improved their physical fitness and consequently their quality of life. Turning in our business plan on time required that my ten fellow team members and I stay up until four in the morning two nights in a row. We were overjoyed when our extensive one-hundred page business plan was named ”Best Business Plan” (although not the top award winner selected to go on to the national competition) at Lakehead.

My month spent working on the business plan at Shad Valley was hectic, but well worth the stress. The business plan competition was an opportunity to learn more about business and to work on a big group project. More importantly, it introduced the world of product design and development and the world of medical device regulation to my teammates and me. It gave us a glimpse into the lives of people in need and into the social entrepreneurship that can be used to help people in need that will continue to be a source of inspiration for us in the future.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on August 6th, 2011.


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