Manning Award winner Frank Bouchard demonstrates how to strike that perfect balance between community engagement, engineering and entrepreneurship.
On October 20, the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation presented what are arguably the most prestigious innovation awards in Canada. To the surprise of no one, Frank Bouchard, a graduate of the Faculty of Engineering and co-founder of Wipebook, was selected to receive the Manning Innovation Award. This prize is one of only four that the Manning Awards Foundation presents annually to talented Canadian innovators. This recognition, however, is only the latest in a lengthy list of accolades. As recently as April, Frank was among the recipients of this year’s Ottawa Business Journal’s Top Forty Under 40, which underlines the professional accomplishments and community involvement of rising business leaders. Since graduating with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in 2011 and 2013 respectively, Frank Bouchard has demonstrated that it takes more than an idea to have an impact in the field and in the community.
As he said during an interview with Maclean’s back in 2014, the idea that eventually evolved into Wipebook—a company that manufactures and sells reusable whiteboard notebooks—first started as a school assignment. As part of a graduate course on entrepreneurship, students were required to work in teams to develop a viable business idea. From there, after a successful Kickstarter campaign that earned $425,000 (the original goal was $4000) and an appearance on the TV show Dragon’s Den, Frank and his associates have expanded a simple concept into an international business. Yet that is not all.
Throughout the expansion of his business these past three years, Frank has held the position of manager of Outreach programs at the Faculty of Engineering; a position that he continues to hold today. He has been the driving force behind the extraordinary success of the student-led Adventures in Engineering and Science program, an initiative that seeks to introduce children and youths to these fields through a hands-on approach. In 2014, the program was awarded $75,000 by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Through this grant, the program was able to invest in new tools like 3D printers, laptops and portable CNC cutters. Today, the dream is to give back to the community. "I want to provide the participants with the same great experience that I had as a kid", said Frank.
In his capacity, Frank has been a key player in other ventures at the Faculty: the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace and the uOttawa Maker Mobile. The Makerspace is a student-run space that features various resources and tools like laser cutting, vinyl cutting and Arduino; it is a space where students can turn their ideas into a reality, free of charge. This idea of providing young people with the opportunity to put their designs to the test was taken to the next level with the uOttawa Maker Mobile. Using the latest technologies, it delivers fun, hands-on learning activities to schools, libraries and community centres across the region. Earlier this year, Frank was granted the Faculty’s first Entrepreneurial Employee Award for the role that he played not only in helping to get these projects off the ground, but in making them a success.
Frank’s professional experience inside and outside the University demonstrates how a great idea is only one part of what makes a great engineer. Instilling an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of community in students is an important component of what the Faculty of Engineering seeks to do. Claude Laguë, who concluded his tenure as Dean of the Faculty in June of this year, remarked on Frank’s performance as an alumnus and employee: “Without Frank’s drive and passion, our very successful Richard L’Abbé Makerspace and uOttawa Maker Mobile would still be dreams. Frank is an outstanding Faculty alumnus, entrepreneur and employee and it is most appropriate that he be recognized.”
When reached for comment on the subject, Frank had some advice to share with students beginning their university career: “What engineers do is work on projects that push the world forward. As projects tackle harder and more complex problems, engineers will require tools, knowledge and skill sets beyond their narrow technical knowledge base. That's why it's so important to take on a personal project today if you don't already have one. Not only will this better prepare you as an engineer and allow you to learn new skill sets that differentiate you from all other graduates, but you could end up turning your passion project into a career. If that happens, you'll quickly realize that you don`t need to wait for someone else to give you your dream job. Instead, you’ll know that you actually have the power to create one, and that's a powerful idea.”