The first weekend of June saw U of T’s first annual Tri-Campus BLUE 3 Hackathon competition take place. The event was housed at each campus’s technical innovation hubs and accelerators. The three-day competition took the teams of students and innovators from the community across U of T’s three main campuses, through the THE HUB at UTSC, and then to UTM’s I-CUBE, ending at DCSIL on the St. George campus.
Teams were comprised of an equal number of computer science students and students from other disciplines. Each team pitched their early-stage entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of expert judges and competitors. Start-up ideas all sought to develop high-impact solutions to everyday problems through a commercial approach. The challengers demonstrated a wide innovative range from a fun online social media tutoring platform, a global disease reporting database with live results, to wearable tech like jewellery.
The groups presented their ideas to the judges, who provided constructive criticism and feedback on the group’s approach, and the level of passion, dedication, research, preparedness, technical know-how, and entrepreneurial aptitude displayed by the teams was impressive. The judges, then scrutinized feasibility, market research, and technical obstacles the challengers were meant to identify and address.
After deliberation, Anthony Nazarov, Maroof Moral, & Erica Tatham were crowned the winners, for their development of ParticipAid — a technology that would connect participants with researchers based on the participant’s preferences and personal health profile. The ParticipAid team wanted to create a platform that would enable altruistic participants to connect with researchers in a simple way, from the beginning of a research study to its end.
“We’ve developed a passion for wanting to get the public more interested in offering to participate in research studies, because there is a great deal of brilliant research happening in our city, especially at U of T and its affiliated hospitals and research networks,” says Maroof Moral, a U of T alumnus of Psychology, adding that, “When recruiting participants is the number-one bottleneck of the research process, it makes us want to do something about it. Participating in a research study is a great way to get involved in your local scientific community, [and] give back to a noble cause.”
The ParticipAid team won Mastercard gift cards to assist with furthering their project, and won the unique opportunity to present their project to Innovators from the 2015 Intelligent Community Forum Summit the following day.
In second place were: Vicky Bukta, Joseph Gordon with OSHI — an idea that combines existing technologies to create a personalized loyalty program for consumers through personalized discount offerings. In third were Ahmad Khan, Teri Fallowfield, and Mishal Arif, who pioneered Ecoden, which is an indoor space-saving gardening technology tailored to apartment dwellers who wish to enjoy fresh, organic, and sustainable food options.
The BLUE 3 Hackathon was the brainchild of Helen Kontozopoulos and Mario Grech, Directors & Co-Founders of the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL) on the St. George campus. The Hackathon was open to students, alumni, and community experts, fusing a knowledge base that spanned a number of subjects, in order to create innovative and field-specific software. “We were encouraged to participate by our professors Helen and Mario. We were working on an idea for the past couple weeks and thought it would be [a] great idea to take advantage of the mentorship to help solidify our idea, and business plan.” said Vicky Bukta, a computer science student, who along with her partner Joseph Gordon, presented OSHI.
The event was designed to be a venue that showcased an existing business innovation by means of a group presentation. “We’ve had a start-up idea for a year now, and have been working on it in our spare time, juggling our studies and day job,” said Moral, adding that, “When we heard about the U of T Tri-campus Hackathon, we decided this would be a nice challenge for us to put our idea to the test… Just having an event like this in the U of T student and alumni community means a lot to us… To know that our university supports and encourages this kind of forward-thinking, entrepreneurial mindset just adds to our inspiration and confidence to pursue our dreams.”
The event offered many, the opportunity to get perspective, feedback, and support. As Mishal Arif from EcoDen pointed out, the most valuable aspect of the competition was “definitely the feedback, recognition and encouragement… To have the undivided attention of such an experienced and knowledgeable panel of judges — even if for only five minutes — meant the world to us.”
When asked if they had any words for students, the ParticipAid team commented, “Today it’s really easy to achieve your goals. If you have an idea, it’s easier to make it tangible… While you’re a student it is the perfect time to take chances. Instead of doing an internship, why not do your own things since these experiences can be as rich, if not more than, a summer internship.”
This fall, DCSIL is opening its Arts & Science Entrepreneurship Program (ASEP) to all students. Those with innovative drives are encouraged to apply.
With files from Céline Couteau