Liam Bourque is 12 years old, but he already knows exactly what he wants to do: get a degree at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and pursue robotics, coding and engineering.
But first, he wants to inspire other kids on Prince Edward Island to love science, too, through his new business, Sandbox Science.
"I realized that there wasn't many opportunities for kids to get hands-on science experiments," Liam said in an interview via Zoom from his home in Charlottetown, with his mother Billie-Jean Bourque. "So I decided I should change that!"
He joined the Young Millionaires, a summer program that teaches kids how to start and run a business, and developed Sandbox Science.
The business offers two-hour workshops to P.E.I. children aged three to 10 to carry out fun experiments "in a non-judgmental group of peers who enjoy the same things... I want to create a space of acceptance. The weirder, the better!" the business touts on its Facebook page.
Different abilities not a disadvantage
Liam said he's been interested his whole life in STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
"Ever since I was a toddler I've been taking things apart, tinkering with them — sometimes things that worked perfectly fine," he said with a laugh. "But my parents were always enthusiastic about me learning, and educating myself that way."
Liam was diagnosed at an early age with dyspraxia, which affects physical co-ordination. At seven, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, and at 11, with autism. None of that has held him back in any way, he said.
I hope to inspire other kids like me to get out there. — Liam Bourque
"I have a lot of conditions, but I don't see that as a disadvantage," he said. "It can be [a challenge with] co-ordination, but other than that, it mainly helps me ... I feel that it makes me smarter in some ways. I have a longer-lasting memory for facts and stuff."
"I hope to inspire other kids like me to get out there," he said.
His parents do not have science backgrounds but are behind Liam 100 per cent, and are helping facilitate his plans.
"I think him having the diagnosis of autism kind of made something click in his head," said his mother Billie-Jean. "It really has kind of broadened his kind of, mindset, that 'These are my capabilities and I'm going to use my strengths, and I'm going to go for it.' So we're extremely proud of him."
Human bubbles, and more
For the workshops, Liam sets up six different experiment stations where kids can try their hand at blowing up balloons with carbon dioxide created with vinegar and baking soda, experiment with drones, paper airplanes, human bubbles and more. So far, he has carried out three workshops.
"All of them went really well, the kids were enthusiastic — they were coming home to their parents begging them to sign them up for the next one," he said.
"It was a just a really nice sight to see how many kids were interested in science."
Liam said he isn't nervous leading the workshops. His confidence got a boost this past Christmas, when he came up with and led his own fundraising campaign called Making Spirits Bright, which raised thousands of dollars for local charity Santa's Angels. The charity provides gifts for Island children at Christmas.
Parents pay $25 per child per workshop.
"I feel really great that I'm inspiring younger kids to do what I'm doing," he said. "I'm extremely happy that they're so interested in science now."
His mother said she is impressed with how Liam is excelling in leading the workshops.
"He's so good at going around and encouraging them to make messes," she said. "He wants people to be hands-on."
He also encourages his little sisters to know about science, she said.
The business end
One of the challenges of Young Millionaires is to raise capital to buy supplies for a business. And the kits for the Sandbox Science workshops weren't going to be cheap.
Liam decided to ask for donations. He set up at the Charlottetown Farmer's Market, handing out free pouches of Pop Rocks candy and explaining how they work, in exchange for donations — that initiative raised $500. Then, a friend in British Columbia who shares Liam's passion for STEAM challenged his co-workers to make donations, raising another $2,000 for Sandbox Science.
"So I got fully raised in 24 hours," Liam said.
He also credits Mikey Wasnidge, his Young Millionaires business mentor and entrepreneur in residence with the Startup Zone, for helping him get Sandbox Science off the ground.
Liam reinvests profits from the workshops back into the business. He plans to create a tech and coding unit within the next year for older kids, that would include robotics.
He plans to continue running Sandbox Science year-round, offering workshops on weekends.
He said his next challenge to himself will be creating YouTube science tutorials.
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