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Vancouver Island teen bringing the heat in quest to save lives

Oak Bay’s Liam Pope-Lau, 14, earns $10,000, mentorship to continue development of heated life jacket

At age 14, Liam Pope-Lau is already four years into development of a tool he hopes will save lives.

LifeHeat is born from a chilly dip after falling out while sailing a few years ago.

“I just realized how cold it was and did a little bit of research on hypothermia,” he said. “This project’s really important to me because I feel it could really help somebody.”

Spurred by the icy memory and statistics on cold-related deaths each year, he set out to create a self-heating life jacket using a chemical that creates heat upon contact with water. Pope-Lau sampled 13 prototypes before settling on a version with a calcium chloride element.

His project won the 2022 Youth Innovation Showcase with a $5,000 award attached to continue development.

Work since then, included exploring the expertise of people with BC Ferries, Mustang Survival, and the BC Lifesaving Society. Based on that feedback, he redesigned and improved LifeHeat, to make it accessible to more people as a self-heating survival pack.

“They’re experts in this so it’s amazing to learn from them, they have a wealth of knowledge,” Pope-Lau said. “As one person it’s very hard to get things done, so there’s a community of people to help you out.”

Now in Grade 9 at St. Michaels University School, he recently garnered two more major awards.

He won the award in the Entrepreneurship and Technology category of the Canadian 2024 Ingenious+Innovation Competition, which included a $10,000 prize, mentorship, learning prospects and a meeting with the Governor General. The money is useful as there are barriers especially for young innovators still working through school and extracurricular activities, such as sailing continues to be for Pope-Lau.

More mentorships are also welcome as well.

“It allows us to see where we are and what steps we really need to take to be able to do this,” Pope-Lau said. “It’s going to be amazing to learn from them.”

During the event in Ottawa, he was inspired meeting and chatting with people like Christian Bagge, who revolutionized the wheelchair to allow users to rejoin activities.

“People who are further along the journey are helping out the younger innovators. They know the challenges we face and they also know the ways to get around them,” the teen said.

Perhaps his most prestigious award to date, Pope-Lau took home the top prize at the 2024 Blue Ocean Global Entrepreneurship Competition – touted as the world’s biggest pitch competition for high school students. He was one of four students from Canada in the Top 100 and beat out more than 10,000 students from 161 countries for first place.

RELATED: Oak Bay teen takes on Shakespeare at prestigious Carnegie Hall

The students pitch their innovative business concepts to experienced entrepreneurs and business people, receive feedback on their ideas, join a community of like-minded students, and compete for thousands in cash prizes.

Coming from a small Saanich school, competing against students from massive schools worldwide was an “amazing experience.”

Standouts moments include learning how to position a product, both within the realm of what you want it to do, and the people you want to help, he said.

“Create new markets and go into different areas nobody has gone into before, and assist people who have been out of reach.”

Currently, he’s working on improvements and lab testing to make sure it’s a viable project. He’d like to try some new models, and work on ingredients to make the heat longer-lasting.

“I also want to really be able to work on sourcing recycled materials,” he said.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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