Emily Carr’s Design for Startups Helps Tech Companies In Need of Designers

On January 16, 2020 the Digital Technology Supercluster announced the first Capacity Building program of the Innovation Supercluster Initiative. The Capacity Building Program is all about talent development, and part of ensuring we have the talent for the jobs of tomorrow means engaging under-represented groups, such as women, through projects that support diversity and inclusion. 

Enter Design for Startups project run by the Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Design for Startups connects individual designers from Emily Carr with a tech startup in intensive 12-week sessions. Together, the designer and company develop applied solutions to a design problem. This hands-on program advances the careers of emerging designers and improves the core product offering of regional startups through a long-standing partnership with Innovate BC. 

With the support of the Digital Supercluster, Design for Startups will pair 40 companies with 40 student designers in the next two years alone – an expansion of a program that Shumka Centre Director Kate Armstrong says bolsters the local design economy by strengthening networks between sectors in order to foster a new generation of empowered young workers. “Design for Startups boosts capacity by building a bridge between the worlds of design and technology,” Kate says.

As a kickstart for the much-needed talent pool in the tech ecosystem, the project is driving diversity and inclusion in the sector. Currently, the number of female web designers and developers in B.C. sits at 31% compared to the national average of 48%. By leveraging Emily Carr’s diverse student body, where more than 70% of participants in entrepreneurship programs are women with design backgrounds, this project will develop improved products, platforms, and services for startups.

Kate explained that through involvement in the Design for Startups program they’ve enabled several tech companies to hire their first female employee. 

“We have found that the divide between creative and design communities and tech communities is a gendered one. The vast majority of our participants on the design side are women” explained Kate. 

A two-time participant in the Design for Startups Program, Amy Zhu (BDes, 19) graduated from Emily Carr University and was hired by Design for Startups partner Copilot AI, a local Vancouver startup. Amy now works full time for Copilot AI, tackling everything from product and marketing design, to developer support, to coding and feature-writing. Her success story is just one of many which have emerged since Design for Startups was first piloted in 2013.

An additional benefit of the program is that startups in BC’s tech ecosystem can access post-secondary resources that have historically been more available to larger companies. “This program allows younger companies to partner with the university, giving them a direct line to emerging talent” explained Kate. 

The Spring 2020 cohort of Design for Startups student-company partnerships were finalized earlier this month. Over the course of the next 12 weeks, Emily Carr designers will work directly with the technical and business leads of the nine partner companies, Appreciation Engine, Aquanow, Biba, CheckingIn, CTO.ai, Defind, Klue, Marine Learning Systems, and Talent Marketplace. The program will run again in Fall 2020, with applications for companies as well as students opening in September.