Published April 16, 2018

From left, Scott Higgins of HIP Developments, Adele Newton of Launch, Joel Melloul of Melloul Blamey Construction, and Tobi Day-Hamilton and Angela Olano of Launch.
Ready to Launch
New Waterloo development will house 40,000 sq. ft. science centre
Tobi Day-Hamilton and two of her colleagues at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing had a vision. So did Scott Higgins and his colleagues at HIP Developments. It turns out, it was the same vision – but they didn’t know that until each talked to Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky.

Jaworsky did the introductions, and the initial result is a fledgling not for profit called “Launch”. The ultimate result will be a four-plus-storey science centre and place for exploration in the heart of Uptown Waterloo.

It’s no secret that Waterloo has become known as a – if not “the” – tech centre of Canada. But Day-Hamilton and her IQC colleagues Angela Olano and Adele Newton felt there was a crucial missing piece. Waterloo doesn’t have what Vancouver or San Jose do have – a place to involve young children in the tech world, and a showcase for the kinds of tech innovation that are taking place every day in the region.

The ultimate result will be a
four-plus-storey science centre and place for exploration in the
heart of Uptown Waterloo.

Higgins had the same epiphany, while visiting Vancouver’s “Science World”. That, he realized, is “what Waterloo needed.”

Day-Hamilton concurs: “Why don’t we have one in Waterloo?”

The result? Day-Hamilton and her two colleagues have created “Launch”, a not for profit to promote STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) studies to the young people of the region, and to the community at large.

Note that it is STEAM, including “Arts” – a development all the players in this project emphasize.

Launch is already active, planning and presenting events for students, including a STEAM day for 100 to 150 kids from grades 6-8 to be held May 12 at the Centre for International Government Innovation. That, says Day-Hamilton, will also serve as “the launch party for Launch”.

But the ultimate goal is much, much bigger – and that’s where HIP Developments comes in. HIP is redeveloping the Old Post Office site in Uptown Waterloo; Scott Higgins says that four-plus floors of the new facility will be the new home of Launch. He describes it as “our first Arena of Creativity”, which will be “a permanent home to several youth development programs including Waterloo Region Minor STEAM Association.”

Newton says the project is an answer to everyone’s best hopes; “all the stars aligned!”

Canadian kids get involved in
hockey at a very early age,
and it becomes part of the
culture. The Launch initiators
want the same for tech.

Although the organization is now sponsoring events, “Launch” is still in count-down mode, with a board of governance and an advisory board being formed. And the opening of the science centre is probably three-plus years away. Higgins points out that the Old Post Office project is still in the approvals and design stage, which may take up to a year, and then he anticipates a construction period of two and a half years or so.

That gives the Launch volunteers time to formulate a financial plan – and there is no doubt that a 40,000 square foot science exploration centre is going to be expensive. HIP Developments have made a “significant” initial contribution, and Higgins anticipates ongoing financial donations, but when the time comes, the centre will either be a tenant or a condo-style owner of the new facility.

There are plenty of details to be worked out, but the shared vision is clear. As Higgins notes, with rare exceptions, the tech culture in Waterloo seems to start at the university level, and continue on up.

That is way too late, agree all involved in Launch, if there is truly to be a STEAM culture in the region.

Both Day-Hamilton and Higgins point to sports, especially (this being Canada, after all) to hockey. Canadian kids get involved in hockey at a very early age, and it becomes part of the culture. The Launch initiators want the same for tech. As Higgins says, “We have to get down to that kid level, and make it easy for parents to get their kids involved.”

Day-Hamilton agrees, and says that it will take some innovative thinking. “This will not be a traditional science centre. We want to put the model on its head, to create a culture through programming, where parents have an opportunity to get their kids involved in science and technology at a really young age. We want to make it part of the Canadian culture.”

Newton adds that Launch will not be reinventing the wheel. “There already are a good number of science programs for kids,” she points out, including a STEAM event for young girls that she and Mayor Jaworsky were involved in, late in 2017. “We’re tying those together, so people are really aware of them.” So the goal of Launch is to integrate existing programs into a larger matrix, which also involves developing new programs.

Day-Hamilton also notes that a centre for science will create exposure for the exciting work that is going on in the region – a showplace for the creators whose work deserves to be acknowledged.

In all, when Launch opens at the Old Post Office building, there will be “a chance for everyone to participate,” she says, and a platform from which Launch can “reach out to underrepresented groups.”

When the three IQC colleagues first began envisioning a Launch centre, says Day-Hamilton, the time-line to realization was assumed to be about 10 years. But now, “with HIP’s partnership, we’re looking at a 3 to 4 year timeline.”

The new organization will require a lot of volunteer effort, and will need role models – women and men involved in tech who are willing to mentor young people. “We’re also,” says Day-Hamilton, “going to need some money.”

Newton believes the region’s tech community is ready to support Launch. “People are really wiling to step up,” to give time, expertise, and funding.

Day-Hamilton says that the program will provide an important resource to the community, beyond the facility itself. “The largest challenge we have in this region is talent – we want to start from an early age, developing the talent right here.”

She adds, “We’re a small part of the vision, to position Waterloo Region as the creative capital of Canada.”

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