RBC uOttawa Entrepreneurship Co-op

Justin McLeod, Junior Designer, ING Robotic Aviation Inc.

This is the third installment of my Co-op experience series. Read about my first term as a Junior Designer at Design 1st here and my second term as an Entrepreneurial Apprentice under the University of Ottawa Entrepreneurship Hub here.

Myself (Justin McLeod) at ING Robotic Aviation Inc. Headquarters

Before I jump right into the meat of things, I want to take this opportunity to thank a multitude of people for making this third work term possible. Thank you to the Royal Bank of Canada for making this program a reality. Thank you to Marc-André Daoust and the uOttawa Co-op office for setting up my Co-op as well as taking the risk and thinking outside the box with this amazing co-op program. Thank you to Luc Lalande, my personal mentor, for everything he’s done from taking me under his wing to introducing me to this program. Finally, a big thank you to ING Robotic Aviation Inc. for opening their doors to a 21-year old student and making me feel right at home. I am extremely honoured to be the first ever recipient of the RBC uOttawa Entrepreneurship Co-op Scholarship.

For those who haven’t heard of the program yet, I will briefly outline what it is but more details can be found in this uOttawa Gazette article or on the uOttawa Co-op website. In brief, there are 3 types of possible placements available within the scholarship’s requirements: a business idea or project, an entrepreneurial apprenticeship and a placement within a small start-up or business. In all 3 scenarios, the student acquires valuable entrepreneurial skills within their field of study.

If you went ahead and read my second installment of my Co-op experience, you’ll know that the first option was out of the question for me as I’m simply not ready to start my own business and the second option was in essence what I did over my second work term. And so, it was fitting to follow the third option to continue my “Entrepreneurial Path”. In comes flying in ING Robotic Aviation Inc. Luc introduced me to the CEO and CTO of ING Ian Glenn during my second work term as part of developing my network. A few weeks later, I was invited to visit the company’s headquarters. When I walked through their doors for the first time, I knew right then and there, I wanted to be part of ING. Fast forward a bit and things just took off. Luc and I presented the idea of a “Pilot” placement for this newly created program to Marc-André Daoust and RBC and they loved the idea. The rest is in the flight logs.

ING Robotic Aviation Inc. is Canada’s leading robotic aviation company and is located in Orleans, just outside Ottawa. The company is best described on their website as:

We deliver data driven robotic aviation services in harsh conditions globally

Using their two flagship products, the fixed-wing Serenity system and the single-rotor Responder system, they can mount a multitude of sensors to both systems in order to acquire data, pictures or whatever the client wishes. All this in the harshest of conditions and over long distances that even the best of multi-rotor copters couldn’t match. So for a kid that has a passion for the Internet of Things, prototyping and everything drones, this was a Wild Card, bottom of the 11th, walk-off homerun for me.

ING Robotic Aviation Inc. Responder System

I was particularly excited about this placement because it lined up perfectly with one of my hobbies, it allowed me to work within both an engineering and entrepreneurial setting at the same time. My official title is Junior Designer but the scope of my placement encompasses more than just that. Yes, I’m working on more design and engineering oriented projects, but being a part of the team everyday is the entrepreneurial experience. The best way I can describe it is the work atmosphere at ING Robotic Aviation Inc. is open. The current employees welcomed me with open arms and there is an exchange of knowledge that goes both ways. The CEO Ian is also very open about the state of the company and what’s going on on his end. Every second Friday, I sit in on a meeting where Ian speaks of the current contract situations and we discuss next steps for certain projects. As a student, being part of these meetings goes a long way as far as my entrepreneurial learning is concerned.

When I said that the atmosphere is open, I meant it figuratively and literally. The office is one large room. There’s a conference area, not a conference room, and the production shop is open to everyone. All the employees are in a cluster of desks and not cubicles. The current setup makes for a much more enjoyable day at work and a better learning environment. The openness of the office has allowed me to learn and soak in everything I can from the business side all the way to the slightest engineering detail. My mentor Luc called it “learning by osmosis” and I honestly couldn’t of said it any better.

Entrepreneurial learning by Osmosis

In my last installment, I talked heavily about skill development. Skills such as initiative, time management, leadership, project management and teamwork. In this third type of RBC uOttawa Entrepreneurship Co-op, I am able to not only develop these skills even more but actually study and learn from someone that has developed these skills and has been working at them for many years. I believe this is the biggest benefit of the option I chose. The fact that the office is open just makes it that much easier.

When Ian and I have discussions about the current state of projects and such, he always circles back around to the entrepreneurial benefit of what I’m working on. For instance, I do most of the rapid prototyping for 3D printing and when we were faced with a challenge with a specific client’s needs, I was able to design, print and install the solution within 36 hours. From Ian’s perspective, this plays a big part in the entrepreneurial side because we are able to quickly adapt and overcome any obstacle that a certain client’s requirements present, which in return is heavily marketable. To give another example, I am currently redesigning the canopy of the Responder system and this canopy must have a specific shape to allow for branding elements, differentiating ING from any other copter in the sky. In other discussions, he will talk about current missions but also their future perspectives and how a certain contract has the potential to open more doors for other contracts. His entrepreneurial views and our discussions have made me realize a lot, but the thing that seems to stand out to me is:

Every decision has business ramifications, down to the simplest of engineering design, because that small decision might be what sets you apart from the competition.

Now, what would be one of my blogs without giving my perspective and dropping a bit of truth…I recently had the great honour to be invited to an RBC round table discussion on their newly announced Youth Strategy. As a youth representative, I was able to discuss youth involvement and 21st century skills with many of Ottawa’s youth community leaders. A topic of discussion that seemed to come up often and that we would always circle back to is youth experience. Real life work experience…the holy grail.

More and more, employers are looking at applicants’ work experience, volunteer work and project portfolio, programs like the RBC uOttawa one, and less their degree, their GPA or how they’re proficient in Microsoft Office. But the problem for many youth is how exactly do we get this experience. Well, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: project based learning. At the RBC event, I was asked on a couple occasions: “As a youth, what would you say engages your peers to not only learn, but also acquire experience?”. Project based learning. Should I repeat it again?

But seriously, this generation learns by doing. No engineering class will teach you creativity in design, no business class will teach you how to be an entrepreneur and a successful one at that. We learn by conceptualizing, building, working, and yes failing. But here lies the problem. So many of us just want that degree, diploma or apprenticeship hours and move on without getting involved in extracurricular.

My younger sister just entered her first year at CarletonU (makes for good dinner table chirps) and I couldn’t be prouder. Being in a very competitive design program, she was worried about how to set herself apart from the rest. My message to her and by extension to the rest of my peers reading this is:

Get involved, work on projects outside of the classroom and do good quality work

Yes, you may be busier with class, sports, projects, social life, etc. but it will pay off.

On the flip side, my message to employers and teachers/professors is:

Allow youth to take ownership of their work, ownership of their projects

Some of the more motivated and ambitious people I’ve met in life are youth. If their motivation is correctly channeled, you’d be amazed at what we can do.

Ian and myself at the RBC uOttawa Entrepreneurship Coop Program launch

Personally, ING Robotic Aviation Inc. paired with the RBC uOttawa Entrepreneurship Co-op Program has really allowed me to channel my ambition. ING has given me full ownership of my 3-axis gimbal project and I can now honestly say that I am much more prepared to run an engineering services business if ever the opportunity arises. I still have an immense amount to learn but this work term has really allowed me to soak in a large amount of information in an environment that I definitely see myself within in the future. I may sound like a broken record but you need to be open to learning something every day and sharpen your skills daily. This amazing program has allowed me to do exactly that and more.

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