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Throughout high school and my first year of university, I was completely invested in going into the healthcare field and becoming a surgeon. I had a full plan: I was going to complete my bachelor’s degree in biology, go to med school, do my residency and follow the path that a surgeon must follow. The classes in first-year biology were not how I expected them to be, though.

From environmental engineering student to cosmetic start-up founder – people often ask me if there's a connection. The answer is a straightforward “no”. The environmental engineering program curriculum at the University of Waterloo doesn't relate to cosmetics or building businesses. Unlike other engineering disciplines that are linked to computing, environmental engineering is typically more conservative when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Jackson Mills saw a problem with student feedback. Originally, he thought that students were falling behind in some of his classes because of a translation error due to the use of jargon. He and another classmate thought that if they translated lectures into more visual metaphors it would eliminate the use of jargon.

Chris Thiele wrote his last exam of the spring term in the middle of August, and by the first week of September, he began his second Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term on a plane to Hong Kong.

Balancing the roles of student and startup founder has become routine for the 4A electrical and computer engineering student. He has been working on the smart gardening system Grobo since spring 2014, when he met his co-founder Bjorn Dawson in Conrad’s BET 300: Foundations of Venture Creation class.

With four months to focus solely on building Grobo, Chris charted an ambitious course that took him from Hong Kong, to the manufacturing ​centres of China, to California, and back to Waterloo in time for the E Co-op end-of-term presentations—with many lessons learned along the way.

Since high school, I knew I had a knack for social causes and wanted to make a career out of advocating for environmental and social justice. While I thought I was going to end up working in environmental advocacy, this summer I picked up the skills to attain this goal as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.

During my spring 2015 Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term with the Conrad Centre, I launched my venture, whyVOTE – a social media platform where young Canadians can learn about current policy issues and compare their views with friends. While the aim of whyVOTE is to motivate young people to vote, it also collects data on the youth opinion which can impact high-level decisions.

I would like to introduce you to Danny Yaroslavski, who is the founder of Lightbot, a startup dedicated to teaching kids to code through gaming. This alumnus worked full-time on Lightbot during his Spring 2013 Enterprise Co-op term and further developed his business in Conrad's BET 300: Foundations of Venture Creation course.

Lightbot was featured prominently in Hour of Code 2014, an international initiative to introduce millions of young students to one hour of computer science and programming. Lightbot is used by students worldwide and is available to play in 29 languages.

Danny has received considerable recognition for his innovative work, winning a Velocity Fund Finals award of $25,000 and being named to Forbes Top 30 Under 30 in the education category.

The Tech Leadership Conference was a flashy affair which gave an impressive snapshot of the future of tech in the Waterloo Region. To me as a fresh-faced entrepreneur, the confidence in the room was intimidating, but inspiring.

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the three keynote speakers were women and found it interesting that the focus of presentations was non-technical (e.g. management skills and idea fostering) but still told through the lens of innovation.

Susan Cain’s talk about the power of introverts made me question the extrovert title I was clinging to all these years and relieved a lot of pressure I hadn’t realized I had put on myself to do so.

The pressure to find the perfect gifts for friends and family during the holiday season can be intense. It's easy to go to the closest shopping centre or the biggest online retailer for super-saver discounts, but you never really know where the money from your purchase will end up. The dollars that you spend during the holidays can add up quickly, and can have an impact that extends far beyond the retailer's pocketdepending on where you choose to shop.

Here are four startups that are making the world a better place with every purchase.

In September, I participated in Hack the North with my Suncayr co-founders, Derek Jouppi and Andrew Martinko, and our classmate Dave Badami. Hack the North is Canada's largest international hackathon, where students come together for 36 hours to collaboratively code a unique solution to a problem from scratch. For those familiar with Suncayr’s technology (a marker ink that tells you when to reapply sunscreen), you may be wondering what on earth we were doing at a hackathon. For us, it was all about networking. We found out that Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, was going to be there, so we knew that we had to go too.

When I started my Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term in May, Dominic Toselli and I were just a team of two co-founders looking to use technologies that we used at companies in Silicon Valley to optimize decision making in the oil and gas industry. Since then, we've added 4 others and effectively tripled the PetroPredict team. Over the past couple of months we were able to run a high performance team and enable our company to grow and scale.

Leading and building a high performance team was new to me, but as with any new skill, with effort, it is possible to learn.