Three Winning Teams in Hackathon for 1st/2nd Year Students

On Saturday, November 25th, seven teams students participated in the first hackathon aimed specifically at 1st and 2nd year students at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Community College.

Throughout the day, each team developed innovative ideas for products using any technologies they were comfortable with in three prize categories worth $250 each: the “most social”, the “most humorous”, and the “most complete”.

To help students with any questions they might have about product development and coding, eleven students at the senior undergraduate and masters level at Dal volunteered their time to support the event.

“There was a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement in the room – right from the start” reports Grant Wells, Manager of ShiftKey Labs. “Everyone was competing hard for the prizes but there were a lot of laughs so I know they were enjoying this opportunity to apply their coding skills in fun, creative ways.”

Each team presented their ideas and rough demos of their solutions to the room but instead of evaluating winning teams with a traditional panel of judges, each person in the room voted on the ideas they felt were best in the three prize categories.

The winner for “most social” application was team “1UP” – a place for Dalhousie Societies to share their talents, improve their clubs, and interact with other students with different interests and different backgrounds.

Team “Chipotle” earned “most humorous” prize to help students ease their depression by tickling their funny bone with videos based on their comedic interests.

The “most complete” application prize went to team “Snack Track” – an app that helps people track their food and get more information on what they’re eating to make more informed dietary decisions.

Congratulations to everyone who participated!

Team “Snack Track” (l to r): Stephen Terrio and Mackenzie Boudreau. Winners of the “most complete” prize category.
Team “1UP” (l to r): Thomas Rizzuto, Oliver Dechant, and Ivy Lin, winners of the “most social” prize category
Team “Chipotle (l to r): James MacPhee and Rylan Conway, winners of the “most humorous” prize category

MyMem Models Startup Success with Competition Wins

A siri-like app, developed by current and former Dalhousie students, to assist older people and those with dementia to recall information easily and independently using artificial intelligence has recently been awarded $50,000 investment after success at national and regional competitions.

Last week, Volta Labs in partnership with Innovacorp and BDC Capital, launched the Volta Cohort – a new $125,000 micro fund for Atlantic Canadian early-stage companies. The Dalhousie-based team, MyMem were one of five Halifax companies to be awarded a $25,000 funding and mentorship package at the November 14th launch event, following a competitive pitching process.

Age-Well Ideathon 2nd place winners (L to R): Arun Athisamy, Eric Fisher, Harish Gopinath, and Aishwarya Ravichandran

This follows similar success at a national ideathon competition. Back in October, AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence and HACKING HEALTH hosted the culmination of a Canada-wide competition to identify and invest in new technologies and services to support healthy aging. MyMem placed second in the national initiative and took home $25,000 investment.

MyMem is the creation of alumnus Eric Fisher (PhD Biochemistry & Molecular Biology ’13) and current Master of Applied Computer Science program students Harish Gopinath, Arun Athisamy, and Aishwarya Ravichandran.

“We wanted to develop a solution for dementia sufferers and their families to makes things easier for those suffering from memory loss, their caregivers and families,” said Ravichandran.

“Through AI based personalized voice command, MyMem helps people living with dementia recall information quickly and independently, and hold onto memories and experiences. It will enable users to access important information and photos by voice command, requiring very little proficiency with technology. We hope the app will be fun to use as well as helpful and believe this could change the way disorders such as dementia are approached.”

MyMem’s recent accomplishment follows first-place success earlier this year at HACKING HEALTH HALIFAX in March, and Nova Scotia Sandboxes Introduction to Innovation Bootcamp in May.

The team is based out of innovation sandbox ShiftKey Labs in the Goldberg Computer Science Building, where they have benefitted from the expertise of lab manager, Grant Wells.

“MyMem have shown real potential since the idea was first conceptualized earlier this year,” says Wells. “The app could have a huge impact on people’s lives and the way in which health professionals deal with dementia, related disorders and those living with them.”

Following their recent wins, MyMem are looking ahead and moving forward with tailoring the app to better serve customers.

“The investment from both competitions will make a huge difference in how we can continue to innovate and develop the best product possible for users,” Harish Gopinath says. “We are hoping to go public with the app in 2018 and the investment of support and money we have received so far will really help to make this happen.”

Project Incubation Bootcamp a Hit

Summer 2017 was a busy one for students and to the delight of the organizers, the NS Sandboxes Project Incubation bootcamp was a hit.

“We wanted to create a program that allowed students to explore the commercial potential of their idea that was also as flexible and impactful as possible” describes Grant Wells, Manager and co-organizer of the program. “I feel the entire bootcamp team really stepped-up and delivered a program that was a large success for everyone involved.”

58 students applied and 38 students/23 teams were accepted into the 12-week program. Each week, students were required to attend a full day of curriculum in their respective sandbox, attend a minimum 1/2 hour progress review meeting with their Sandbox Manager, and work a minimum of 14 additional hours on their project.

Some teams spent their time developing technology-focused businesses using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) while others chose more traditional businesses such as a woodworking company using reclaimed wood source material and a local apple cider company.

In the end, 10 teams were selected as finalists to pitch at the August 24th Demo Day to a panel of 5 judges and approximately 80 other spectators.

After much deliberation, the panel of judges chose two winning teams and awarded $50,000 in prize money—$20,000 to Creative Urban Timber and $30,000 to the Island Folk Cider House.

Many bootcamp alumni have chosen to continue developing their products by returning to ShiftKey Labs as Lab Residents with a few of those teams also joining other regional incubator and accelerator programs.

Demo Day Teams

Please click the links below for more information on each of the Demo Day presenting teams.

App-solutely memorable: Halifax students making tool for those with dementia to access family photos, messages

By: Kashmala Fida For Metro Published on Mon Aug 07 2017

A new Siri-like application to help seniors with dementia or memory loss is in the works thanks to a group of current and former Dalhousie University students.

MyMem is the brainchild of graduate Eric Fisher, and current Masters of Applied Computer Science program students Harish Gopinath, Arun Athisamy, and Aishwarya Ravichandran, who have been working on the app since March.

“Our app enables us to easily access important information and photos by voice command and it requires very little use of technology,” said Fisher, who graduated with a PhD in biochemistry in 2013.

“We want to provide families and caregivers, residences with a private group account within which they can share information.”

Fisher said they wanted to create something that was both helpful and fun to use.

The idea for the app was conceived at an event called Hackathon, put together by Hacking Health, a social organization that works to improve technology development in the health sector.

During his speech, co-founder Luc Sirois mentioned that he wished for his mother to be able to access memories on her phone via Siri.

Fisher said they went with the idea from there.

“Right now we have the prototype. We are developing a version that can be tested by people which will release this fall,” he said.

Fisher said they are reaching out to the public through Kijiji and social media to look for families that could benefit from this app.

They are looking for people, not only to use the app but also to interview and talk about what their problems are on a daily basis, and to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they face.

From the information gathered, they will tailor the app to better help people.

“Their input will help us really make MyMem into something like a real, meaningful, positive impact on people’s lives.”

The application project is part of an Introduction to Innovation Bootcamp out of ShiftKey Labs at the Dalhousie University.

The group recently completed phase one of the bootcamp and are progressing to phase two.

They hope to release a broader version of the app for public use by 2018.

Supporting the Next Generation of Halifax Start-ups

By: Rebecca Rawcliffe

It may be summer but Dal-hosted innovation sandbox ShiftKey Labs is buzzing with activity from emerging entrepreneurs.

Based in the Goldberg Computer Science Building, ShiftKey is hosting seven teams from the Faculty of Computer Science all taking part in the NS Sandboxes Project Incubation Bootcamp.

From a Canadian Visa Superhero to an automatic meeting scheduler, teams are two thirds of the way through a three-month long provincial bootcamp to develop their innovation ideas.

Cutting-edge artificial intelligence

RovBOT uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence algorithms to understand the needs of individuals manoeuvring through the Canadian visa process. The idea is being developed by Computer Science graduate students Ruhi Madiwale, Dhivya Jayaraman and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu.

“Through Facebook Messenger, RovBOT makes the visa process easy by guiding users every step of the way, providing customised guidance”, says Ruhi Madiwale, Master of Applied Computer Science student and RovBOT Tech Evangelist. “We have trained RovBOT using publicly-available information from Citizenship and Immigration Canada(CIC) to understand individual needs and keep track of application deadlines and documentation.”

“As international students at Dalhousie who have all gone through making visa applications, we saw a need to make the visa process easier and more streamlined for those wanting to come to Canada. We hope that RovBOT can fill that gap and also offer tailored support for newcomers.”

Nurturing business potential

The aim of the bootcamp is to support teams of up to 3 founding members in the early stages of developing a product which has some business potential.

“Through mentorship, innovation-focused workshops and collaborative workspace, we are supporting the next generation of Halifax start-ups get off the ground”, says Grant Wells manager of ShiftKey Labs. “Sandboxes across the province are hosting teams with a diverse range of ideas; it’s amazing to witness the innovation and help in developing ideas which could have a real impact on day-to-day life.”

Connor Walsh, Computer Science alum, had an everyday workplace struggle in mind when developing automated meeting scheduler, Let’s Schedule.

“Identifying group availability for meetings is a common problem for most people in the workplace,” says Walsh. “This inspired me to think about developing a solution that goes beyond the traditional systems currently used.

“Let’s Schedule finds suitable group meeting slots by automatically looking at individual calendars and highlighting ideal times and dates for everyone, without requiring any manual input from users. The solution can be incorporated into existing calendar systems used in the workplace.”

Teams will go head-to-head in final presentations on August 24, with the most promising teams receiving prize money from a pool of $50,000.

CS Students Develop Winning Solution to Support Dementia Sufferers

by Rebecca Rawcliffe

A team of students from Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science took home $7,500 from the Nova Scotia Sandboxes “Introduction to Innovation” Bootcamp to develop their ideas for a tech-based solution to support individuals suffering from dementia.

Master of Applied Computer Science students Aishwarya Ravichandran and Harish Gopinath’s team MyMem, beat 19 other teams from Dalhousie, Acadia, NSCC, St. Mary’s and Mount Saint Vincent to claim first place in the intensive four-week long bootcamp.

“We recognized that dementia and associated memory loss can cause major problems for those living with the condition, including loss of independence and peace of mind,” says Aishwarya. “We wanted to develop a solution for dementia sufferers and their families to makes things easier for them.”

Through AI based personalized voice command, the team identified a way to use technology to help people living with dementia recall information quickly and independently.

“We are also exploring the use of cognitive brain games, featuring a potential sufferer’s memories, to identify the different stages of dementia for family and caregivers,” adds Aishwarya. “We believe this could have a huge impact on the way disorders such as dementia are approached.”

MyMem were also first place winners at Hacking Health Halifax in March 2017.

Hands-on introduction to innovation

The Introduction to Innovation Bootcamp, aimed at post-secondary students and new graduates, was developed by sandboxes from across the province, including ShiftKey Labs based out of the Faculty of Computer Science, to introduce new entrepreneurs to start-up methodologies and design thinking, providing them with the support and advice to develop their innovative ideas.

Four weeks of hard work, including a 2-week residency at Acadia, culminated in final pitches in front of a panel of expert judges and potential investors at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science on May 25, with $15,000 dollars up for grabs for the top three placing teams.

“From supporting the local beer and wine industry to youth retention in Nova Scotia, we saw an impressive range of ideas come out of the bootcamp from the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Grant Wells, manager of ShiftKey Labs. “Initiatives such as this prove how much emerging start-up talent there is in the Province, and through Nova Scotia Sandboxes we are dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

“MyMem’s pitch stood out for the judges as it has real potential to be developed as a product which could change the way in which health professionals approach dementia and related disorders.”

The top three placing teams included third-place Kinematic World — also from the Faculty of Computer Science — which took home $3,750 to develop their mobile fitness game to encourage increased physical activity amongst gamers.

All three now go forward to a second Project Incubation Bootcamp. This advanced 12-week session will support teams with existing projects to take their ideas to the next level, with a total of $50,000 in prize money available to winning teams.

Startup Connects Students with Work Opportunities

By: Matt Reeder

StuGig co-founders Ben Bright (left) and Vijay Kumar. (Provided photo)
StuGig co-founders Ben Bright (left) and Vijay Kumar. (Provided photo)

Benjamin Bright was fresh into his first year at Dal when he hatched an idea for a smartphone app. He had a problem, though: it was tough to find a developer to help him build it.

It’s not that there weren’t any skilled computer programmers in Halifax who might be interested in helping him out on the project. Rather, there simply wasn’t a clear path to connecting with them.

Ben finally tracked someone down after a few months of networking, but eventually ended up shelving the app project. It was taking too long to get results on the technical work.

Around this time, Ben, a Management student, also began working as a volunteer at ShiftKey Labs — a technology focused innovation sandbox hosted by Dal’s Faculty of Computer Science. There, he met other people facing the same problem he had had. There simply weren’t enough developers to meet growing demand from aspiring student entrepreneurs.

“I thought to myself, ‘I went through this pain of trying to find a developer. These people are asking for developers. There must be a problem here,’” he says.

Meeting a need

On the flip side, Ben — who is from Montreal — had begun hearing more and more about Nova Scotia’s struggle to retain highly skilled youth in the province because of a shortage of career opportunities.

That’s when he decided create StuGig, a web-based platform connecting students to short-term technology “gigs” with small- and medium-sized businesses, Dal-led student startups, and other local post-secondary student ventures.

“There’s been a major uptick in the number of student-led startups at Dal over the past few years thanks to a variety of new initiatives, and StuGig stands to play a valuable supportive role on some of those ventures and others in the community at large,” says Stephen Hartlen, Dal’s assistant vice-president of industry relations and executive director of the university’s Industry Liaison and Innovation office.

By highlighting the talent on offer at Dal and in Nova Scotia, and enabling those individuals to gain some job experience here, Ben says there’s a greater likelihood they’ll stay.

“People come to develop their skills, but they don’t stay to use their skills,” he says. “We want to find that right medium to help facilitate a solution to that problem.”

A collaborative approach

Existing platforms such as Fiverr and Elance were already helping talented freelancers tap into the so-called “gig economy,” but the StuGig team saw value in creating an option exclusively for students without a lot of real-world experience.

“We want to give students experiential learning opportunities,” says Ben, who is heading into his fourth year in Business Management with a major in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “That way they can build their resume and they can build more credibility to ultimately land the jobs of their dreams.”

Meanwhile, startups and other businesses get a completed task at a prorated rate. And they have a readymade database of talent that they can turn to if they need help with web development, mobile apps and other smaller tasks.

Work on StuGig began in earnest just over a year ago shortly after Ben met Dal Engineering master’s grad Vijay Kumar, who took on the role of chief technology officer and began building out the platform.

Originally from India, Kumar himself had arrived in Nova Scotia eager to work but found it tough at first to find gigs. He took on an instructor role in the Department of Engineering Mathematics and Internetworking after graduation, and helped launch StuGig to assist others like himself in finding career opportunities.

Divya Dola, another Dal alum with a master’s degree in Computer Science, joined later as lead programmer.

Support through Dal

The team applied to the Faculty of Management’s annual Dal $100K competition last spring, winning one of 10 coveted spots in the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship’s eight-week LaunchPad Accelerator program that comes with $10,000 in funding.

Following that, a five-week innovation internship worth $7,500 brought them back to ShiftKey Labs, which Ben says provided “crucial” support further building out the feasibility of its platform.

A Beta version of the StuGig website launched earlier this spring for students with digital talent looking to showcase their skills to a growing marketplace. More than 100 students have created profiles on the site so far, and the StuGig team is working with local businesses and hiring managers to build out a bigger list of available gigs.

As the team gathers more data in the coming months, it will work to refine certain features to better suit the needs and wants of users. Currently, students bid on projects to win work, but eventually the platform will also include a feature where tasks can be scooped up on demand. The team also plans to add a new feature later this year to improve the process of how companies and regular users pay students for projects.

Building talent in Nova Scotia

Ben says he’d like to eventually expand StuGig beyond the tech field into other areas, too. At the broader level, he sees the platform as a driving force in modernizing the way education is delivered through experiential learning in Nova Scotia. He says the raw skills are here in the province, and StuGig’s mission is to help entrepreneurs, companies and even the public sector tap into those.

“There are some very talented people in the province,” he says. “Why are we not boasting about that?”

Students Tackle Real Business Problems at Python Hackathon

4 teams of Dal Computer Science students proved their innovation at the latest ShiftKey Labs Hackathon.

The ShiftKey-Py Hackathon took place February 22 – 24 and challenged teams to creatively solve valuable business problems using web frameworks including Python and Django.

Sponsored by social media analytics company Leadsift, the Hackathon saw students tackle issues including corporate Twitter account mapping, B2B/B2C classification of online profiles and personal vs. professional social media post classifiers.

Following two days of problem solving, students presented their solutions to a panel of expert judges with team StarDotStar’s B2B/B2C webpage classifier coming out on top.

The winning team used a range of technologies including Python, Django, NLTK and scikit-learn to build their own classifier to determine if companies from a shared dataset were B2B or B2C.

Sponsor Leadsift were so impressed by the StarDotStar’s winning solution, team member Kundan Kumar was offered full-time employment with the organisation.

Grant Wells, Manager at ShiftKey Labs said: “Hackathons like this one are part of a wide range of events organised by ShiftKey Labs for students and the community throughout the year. The sessions act as a fantastic opportunity for teams and individuals to develop their skills, access industry expertise through mentorship and gain recognition for their work. Kundan’s employment offer following the event is testament to how Hackathons such as this one are mutually beneficial to students, universities and the wider community.”

A very special thanks goes out to Colin Conrad and Vlado Keselj for their work coordinating and delivering this event.

Students Create Immersive Multimedia Solutions in Technology Innovation Course


Thirty-four Computer Science and Integrated Design students from Dalhousie/NSCAD University worked together in the fall 2016 offering of the “Technology Innovation” course to create a variety of immersive multimedia solutions for the NSCAD Prototype Dome.

Throughout the course, students were exposed to elements of design thinking, project management, and software development to “get their hands dirty” and solve a central design challenge.

The challenge? Create engaging multimedia content for the dome that used public data sets to tell a story that resonated with Nova Scotians.

One such example was the creation of a “Global Cooking Challenge” that used Playstation™ controllers to teach people how to cook a sample dish from a particular country. Students learned through design thinking observations and various insights that:

  • International students feel isolated from the greater community
  • Typical events for international students are geared toward connecting them with other international students instead of locals
  • People of different cultures look to commonalities to form connections

Ultimately, the game served a much more important role: To create stronger connections between international and Canadian students.

NSCAD/Dalhousie University students playing the “Global Cooking Challenge” game in the prototype dome

The course exemplified the collaborative effectiveness between design and technology students supported by an enthusiastic industry partner. Each solution also modelled the creative potential for dome technologies.

To learn more, please visit the Technology Innovation course page on this website.

Jac Gautreau, Dome Project Creative Producer, explaining dome-powered technologies to students.

Orientation Week Welcome for New Students

The first week of September is an important one for post-secondary institutions as we welcome a new batch of students to campus through Orientation Week (O-Week). ShiftKey Labs partnered up with the Dal Faculty of Computer Science Society (CSS) and Computer Science Graduate Society (CSGS) to deliver some fun activities to our new friends.

On September 6th, incoming undergraduate Computer Science students participated in a Rapid Innovation session held in ShiftKey Labs. Students were already placed in teams by CSS organizers and each team was asked to draw two words out of a box. The goal was to take 3 minutes and use these two words to come up with a unique software-based innovation. Each team was invited up to the front of the room to present their solution in a 2-minute “pitch”. The Sandbox Manager and other students in the room could then ask questions to clarify and provide some feedback to the team. The activity concluded with an award of 1–3 points based on the originality, viability, and potential impact of each idea.

Some fun word combinations and potential solutions were

 Words Idea
Youth, Senior An interactive game that brought youth and seniors together over shared activities
Transportation, Efficiency Attachable body modifications to cars to increase their aerodynamics. Sensors that provided car owners with easy-to-understand diagnostic and performance information through a mobile application.
Tourism, Safety A mobile app that lets tourists (or anyone else new to the region) know about safety alerts. Could also incorporate safety notices to friends and family members.

On September 7th, graduate CS students attended an orientation session that showcased different research areas and labs within the Faculty of Computer Science. ShiftKey Labs hosted an information booth and invited one of the Lab Resident Project Teams, UnivFax, to demo their start-up business. Students circulated around the room, enjoyed pizza and drinks, and chatted with us about the lab and how they might get involved.

As O-Week comes to a close, we hope you’ve enjoyed the activities and know a little bit more about the resources, supports and opportunities available to you on campus.