Brilliant Labs

Welcome to The Pivot series, where we celebrate the resilience and innovation of Atlantic Canadians entrepreneurs who adapted tremendously to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked business leaders from across the region to tell us in their own words how they navigated the new economy and the lessons they learned along the way. Here is what one entrepreneur had to say.

Jeff Wilson, Executive Director
Brilliant Labs

The great majority of Brilliant Labs' work (95%) is about support for youth, educators, schools, and community groups and was all done in person prior to the pandemic. We had between 30 and 40 specialists supporting hundreds, sometimes thousands, of youth and educators on a daily basis in schools and communities with an in-person delivery model. As the events of March 2020 unfolded, we realized our existing operational model was rendered completely useless and, unless we mobilized to reach people virtually immediately, we would find ourselves in a very challenging and difficult situation for creating impact and making positive steps towards our organizational goals and mandate. We had to come to terms with the realization that our relevance and reach were at great risk.

This series of challenges and realizations made us see the opportunity for development in the face of adversity. We leveraged a Canadian Open Source project to ensure student safety and data privacy. We harnessed another Open Source project to develop a VR platform to offer a new and different digital experience for online learning. Both of these platforms were used extensively to connect with teachers, students, and parents during the initial home learning phase of the pandemic response and we continue to use them today. Early on, it was a great deal of effort with very little return on investment when it came to reaching youth, parents, and teachers but we persevered and, after only a few weeks, we realized that not only were families and teachers in Atlantic Canada starting to access our resources in great numbers but so too were families and educators from across Canada and throughout the world including the United States as well as parts of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. 

All the resources and platforms we developed during the pandemic response will continue to be used and maintained well into the future. For example, we are certainly looking forward to the possibility of running next summer’s programs in person but we will maintain a virtual presence as it allows us to reach more people with specialized programming delivered by those with specific expertise which most young people throughout the region would not be able to access otherwise. Some of the administrative support and management practices have also evolved and continue to evolve even now. The way we interact as a team and the projects and initiatives we take on are also still informed by this experience. All in all, this was a tremendous period of transformation for us and we are fortunate to have been able to navigate this intense period of change and get to the other side in such a strong position. 

COVID-19 completely uprooted a very successful delivery model we had developed over the years and turned it upside down. Rather than consider what was lost, we chose to focus on the opportunities ahead. The pandemic brought an endless and everchanging set of unknown variables and we tried to be as adaptable and agile as possible. Our response was far from perfect but we made every effort we could to keep pushing and we were incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by supportive team members, partners, collaborators, and stakeholders. You can never know what the future holds but you can always be prepared to keep pushing forward.

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