Creative Minds: Meet the Creative Working Group, based out of ShiftKey Labs

Ben Bright has the mindset of a startup entrepreneur. And when he’s not developing his own ideas, the Business Management student is helping to develop a culture of innovation at Dal.

Ben is the lead and founding member of the Creative Working Group, a multidisciplinary collection of students that operates out of the Dalhousie-based ShiftKey Labs. Described by ShiftKey program manager Grant Wells as a “pre-incubator” space, the lab supports technology-based innovation at its earliest stages by connecting would-be entrepreneurs with the resources they need.

Last year, Ben brought an idea to Grant for feedback and support. Although that idea never came to fruition, Ben began volunteering for ShiftKey and Grant eventually challenged him to create an entity of his own within the lab’s structure.

“Grant said, if you can bring four or five people together to volunteer, you can run this Creative Working Group team,” Ben explains.

Bringing the team together

Ben was able to recruit students from the faculties of Management, Science, Engineering and Computer Science to join his team. The Creative Working Group was tasked not only with supporting ShiftKey initiatives, but also for creating events that would increase student engagement with the lab.

“The idea was to create a group that would be a core part of the lab, where the students generate ideas that will be appealing to other students and get the opportunity to plan and promote them,” Grant says.

Among the ideas the Creative Working Group brought to life during the final months of the 2015-16 academic year was a weekly “open mic” event, where students, alumni and community members came to ShiftKey and get constructive feedback on their innovative ideas in a supportive setting. Plans are in place to relaunch the event this fall.

“It doesn’t matter if you have an idea for a platform that already has hundreds and thousands of users or one that’s in its first line of code. You share with us and we’re just a group of people who will evaluate your idea,” says Ben. “Are there resources we can guide you to? Are there places or people who might be interested in helping you out?”

Ben believes collaboration is essential to innovation in the technology sphere and that the most important function of the Creative Working Group is bringing together people from a variety of disciplines.

“For a business to come to life you have to have the business tools, the technical tools, the idea and the designers and the informatics,” he says. “What happens to those Marine Biology students who have great ideas and want to turn them into something, but have nobody to reach out to because everyone around them is the same?

“We’re a collaborative group with different skill sets.”

Making those connections

Fellow Creative Working Group members Nick Lor and Faye Teeuwen exemplify this diversity of skills. Nick is an Industrial Engineering student who says getting involved with the group has opened his mind to new ideas and new applications of his own talents.

“Being around people who don’t think the same way as you is an eye-opening experience,” Nick says. “And there’s something about collaborating with other students to bring someone’s idea to fruition that’s interesting to me.”

Faye, an Applied Computer Science student, says the Creative Working Group experience mirrors and enhances the multidisciplinary learning in her academic program.

“It’s a bit of business, a bit of computer science, a combination of those two,” Faye says. “So it connects very well to my degree.”

Perhaps the most important lesson that Creative Working Group members have learned from their association with ShiftKey is the importance of hard work and determination in the entrepreneurial world.

“If I didn’t fail on that first startup idea and I’d left ShiftKey, I wouldn’t be where I am with the group today,” Ben says.

“It’s about making that first connection. In the real world, you’ve got to put your foot in the door.”

— Story by Matt Semansky