This year the theme of World Intellectual Property (IP) Day, April 26, is “IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future”. As the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) puts it;
“Across the globe, young people are stepping up to innovation challenges, using their energy and ingenuity, their curiosity and creativity to steer a course towards a better future.”
How true. Creativity can come at any age. The New England Journal of Medicine has recently published a study showing that peak human intellectual activity occurs around the age of 70 when the brain begins to function at full strength, because at this age the interaction of the right and left hemispheres of the brain becomes harmonious, expanding creative possibilities. That’s good to know and perhaps helps explain why so many seniors take up new crafts, make music, learn to play musical instruments, write books, and become artists in later life. But at the same time, the creativity of youth has amazing potential.
This was brought home to me in spades by an event mounted by and for young entrepreneurs (and I mean young, between the ages of 9 and 14—middle school and junior high school students) a couple of weeks ago close to home, Victoria BC, sponsored by the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria (UVic). The idea is not unique to Victoria or UVic. Since 2007 the Acton Academies, based in Austin, TX, have been organizing Children’s Business Fairs. Acton Academies now exist around the world. According to the Children’s Business Fair website, over 1000 events involving over 50,000 young entrepreneurs have been held in 341 cities in 16 different countries. It sounds like a great program. If interested, you can get more information on their website to organize a children’s business fair in your own community.
I am sure that the creative output in these events around the world matches the imagination and innovation that I observed at UVic’s young entrepreneurs’ fair, called Kidovate. According to the Victoria Times Colonist, Kidovate was launched in 2019 to introduce young people to the basics of being an entrepreneur. Students follow a graphic workbook created by UVic entrepreneurship professor Brock Smith that provides a step-by-step guide on how to set up a venture. If they wish, the students can arrange for a student mentor from the School of Business. Dr. Smith told me that UVic has even prepared a teaching module integrated with the Department of Education curriculum that middle and high school teachers can use to engage their students. Students learn about pricing, financing, marketing, customer service, record-keeping, innovation and regulation. Kidovate helps the young entrepreneurs obtain one day business licenses from the City for Kidovate Market Day (the $100 registration fee is waived). Students themselves merchandise their products, organize business cards and signage, and in some cases will take orders for later delivery.
But what about innovation and creativity? There was lots of it on display. My first stop was a stand operated by Mulita, age 13 and her friend Lily. She was selling keychains, fridge magnets, and pins (including Ukrainian flag pins) made from modular plastic pieces glued together. I asked her where the design ideas came from. “We make these things together with our friends, and we draw and think up the designs ourselves” she replied. Original art!
Next door was Abba, aged 11, selling similar products made of baker’s dough, then painted in bright colours. She too created her own designs.
Phyfer, aged 13 and Zane, 12, had produced 3D printed sea creatures and other animals in moulded plastic, which they then decorated, assisted by design software they had programmed themselves. (As I wrote recently, machine assisted creativity is still a human creation, qualifying for copyright protection.) On and on it went; macrame, jewellery, gift cards, tie-dye, wood carvings, hand-made soaps—all (or most) from original designs. I bought a couple of cut-out gift cards, which could be customized with a personalized greeting; an orca in the background (lots of them along the BC coast) framed by the cut-out. I think the creator of these cards was the one who told me that she was “Nine years old” but then hastened to add, “…but I’m almost ten!”.
A nice touch was the fact that a portion of the proceeds would be going to various charities, the Canadian Red Cross, Ukrainian relief, a Homeless Shelter. It was a very impressive small business showcase cum arts and crafts market; the artists were definitely keen, very articulate and clearly motivated. There were 70 stands with 90 participants. Next year Prof. Smith said he hopes to have 200 stands and 300 participating. And when I suggested that he add an IP component to his teaching module, he readily agreed. We all know (or should know) that IP is a valuable business asset.
Innovation and IP cover more than copyright and design of course. The WIPO website highlights several interesting inventions created by young innovators (young defined as below the age of 35). I have no doubt that some of the teens and pre-teens that I met at Kidovate will be making their own contributions to creation and innovation as they grow into adults. They are already off to a good start.
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