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A Running Start for Tomorrow’s Women Entrepreneurs

Summer lemonade stands are testament to children’s enduring entrepreneurial spirit. Usually, they wait until post-secondary programs for the opportunity to take their entrepreneurial aspirations to the next level—until now.
Lucy is in Grade 5 but here she is, along with 32 fellow mini-entrepreneurs, presenting their business plans in several classrooms. On this June afternoon, more than 100 curious Junior School parents are milling around Branksome Hall’s inaugural Noodle Jr. Trade Show. Along with a team of three peers, Lucy fields questions about her venture—a soap company with social impact, channeling partial profits to SickKids. Lucy presents her memorized, well-rehearsed  “elevator pitch” multiple times—with impressive poise and the authentic vocabulary of start-up culture. 

“It’s a really good learning opportunity and Noodle Jr. is so fun and creative,” says Lucy. “I’m so glad I can do this program in the Junior School.” The first of its kind in a Canadian JK-Grade 12 school, Lucy has spent the past 10 weeks getting a fast-track immersion in start-up thinking, exploring and creating in all aspects of business development. This includes deciding on a business name, conducting market research and learning from challenges as students move through the development cycle. Students dreamed-up ventures including an internet-safety protection package, a grocery-waste redistribution and a keychain kit of personal-safety tools.

“It was so great to see these Grade 5 and 6 students develop fluency with the language of start-ups like prototype, capital and value proposition,” says Deputy Principal Amanda Kennedy. “In fact, one parent commented that their daughter had come home and exclaimed that they know what profit is—and that they want it!” 

The 10-week Noodle Jr. program which kicked off in February for Grades 5 and 6, and its adjunct program, the 38-week Noodle program for Grades 7 to 12 which started in 2019, has the foresight to foster women’s entrepreneurship. The longer-term goal is to break down the gender divide in an increasingly digital and entrepreneurial economy, where transferable skills of innovative thinking and problem-solving will be increasingly prized.

Central to this plan to deliver a transformational education in an age of disruption, is Branksome’s new Innovation Centre and Studio Theatre (iCAST), a space where STEM and the arts will collide. Funded by the $30 million Make Way Campaign, launching this month and set to open in 2025, iCAST is a 36,000 square-foot facility typically found only at universities, a first-of-its-kind space for any JK–Grade 12 school in Canada. Offering an innovative hands-on curriculum including robotics, it will also be the new home of Noodle, scaling up to allow more students’ most inventive ideas to come to life, supported by faculty, expert advisors and real-world entrepreneurs and mentors. 

“By positioning ourselves within the Toronto and Canadian market as a leader in innovation, we’re preparing the next generation of girls who will transform the current male-dominated entrepreneurial landscapes,” said Branksome’s Michael Ianni-Palarchio, Head, Innovation & Strategic Projects.
Indeed, while 99 per cent of Canadian companies are small- to mid-size enterprises (SMEs), creating 150,000 new jobs annually, only 16 per cent are majority-owned by women. As well, it’s commonly cited that women earn less venture capital funding than men, receiving as little as two per cent of all investment money.

Although Lucy is fortunate to have a legacy of successful entrepreneurs in her family, Noodle Jr. has further demonstrated the value of hard work and commitment, she says. Her mother, Melissa, is also incredibly impressed by Lucy’s growth:

“It was wonderful to see her progress, week to week, but her final presentations took it to a whole other level. To build the confidence to present in front of strangers and answer unanticipated questions—from beginning to end, this program is teaching students so many valuable things.”
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LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT
We wish to acknowledge this land on which Branksome operates. For thousands of years, it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work and go to school on this land.

Setting the new standard for girls' education everywhere takes collective action. From all of us.
 
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