Creative Minds: Meet the Creative Working Group, based out of ShiftKey Labs

Ben Bright has the mindset of a startup entrepreneur. And when he’s not developing his own ideas, the Business Management student is helping to develop a culture of innovation at Dal.

Ben is the lead and founding member of the Creative Working Group, a multidisciplinary collection of students that operates out of the Dalhousie-based ShiftKey Labs. Described by ShiftKey program manager Grant Wells as a “pre-incubator” space, the lab supports technology-based innovation at its earliest stages by connecting would-be entrepreneurs with the resources they need.

Last year, Ben brought an idea to Grant for feedback and support. Although that idea never came to fruition, Ben began volunteering for ShiftKey and Grant eventually challenged him to create an entity of his own within the lab’s structure.

“Grant said, if you can bring four or five people together to volunteer, you can run this Creative Working Group team,” Ben explains.

Bringing the team together

Ben was able to recruit students from the faculties of Management, Science, Engineering and Computer Science to join his team. The Creative Working Group was tasked not only with supporting ShiftKey initiatives, but also for creating events that would increase student engagement with the lab.

“The idea was to create a group that would be a core part of the lab, where the students generate ideas that will be appealing to other students and get the opportunity to plan and promote them,” Grant says.

Among the ideas the Creative Working Group brought to life during the final months of the 2015-16 academic year was a weekly “open mic” event, where students, alumni and community members came to ShiftKey and get constructive feedback on their innovative ideas in a supportive setting. Plans are in place to relaunch the event this fall.

“It doesn’t matter if you have an idea for a platform that already has hundreds and thousands of users or one that’s in its first line of code. You share with us and we’re just a group of people who will evaluate your idea,” says Ben. “Are there resources we can guide you to? Are there places or people who might be interested in helping you out?”

Ben believes collaboration is essential to innovation in the technology sphere and that the most important function of the Creative Working Group is bringing together people from a variety of disciplines.

“For a business to come to life you have to have the business tools, the technical tools, the idea and the designers and the informatics,” he says. “What happens to those Marine Biology students who have great ideas and want to turn them into something, but have nobody to reach out to because everyone around them is the same?

“We’re a collaborative group with different skill sets.”

Making those connections

Fellow Creative Working Group members Nick Lor and Faye Teeuwen exemplify this diversity of skills. Nick is an Industrial Engineering student who says getting involved with the group has opened his mind to new ideas and new applications of his own talents.

“Being around people who don’t think the same way as you is an eye-opening experience,” Nick says. “And there’s something about collaborating with other students to bring someone’s idea to fruition that’s interesting to me.”

Faye, an Applied Computer Science student, says the Creative Working Group experience mirrors and enhances the multidisciplinary learning in her academic program.

“It’s a bit of business, a bit of computer science, a combination of those two,” Faye says. “So it connects very well to my degree.”

Perhaps the most important lesson that Creative Working Group members have learned from their association with ShiftKey is the importance of hard work and determination in the entrepreneurial world.

“If I didn’t fail on that first startup idea and I’d left ShiftKey, I wouldn’t be where I am with the group today,” Ben says.

“It’s about making that first connection. In the real world, you’ve got to put your foot in the door.”

— Story by Matt Semansky

Hack Attack: Dal‑Hosted ShiftKey Labs and IBM Partner on Open Data Competition

Earlier this month, the Dal-hosted ShiftKey Labs and IBM teamed up to offer post-secondary students from across Nova Scotia the opportunity to find compelling, innovative uses for government data.

The “hackathon” event, held International Open Data Day (March 5), saw students using an IBM cloud-computing platform and data sets available through the Nova Scotia Government’s Open Data Portal (ODP) as they competed for $2,250 in prize money.

The idea was simple: students would build analytical applications that leveraged the rich data sets available through the ODP — public government data covering areas such as business and economy, communities and social services, government administration, and nature and environment. It was up to the teams to decide whether to use one data set, or a combination of many, to define a challenge and develop an innovative solution.

The event was held at ShiftKey (the Dal-hosted information communications technology sandbox space) in the Goldberg Computer Science Building, and kicked off with an introduction from the Honourable Labi Kousoulis, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Internal Services (left, with ShiftKey Labs program director Grant Wells). He welcomed the 20 student participants, mostly undergraduates, who showed up despite a snowstorm.

Partnership and connection

Their tool for the day was IBM’s Bluemix, a cloud platform-as-service that combines IBM software, third party and open technologies. A key piece of the Bluemix platform revolves around analytics: in order to build apps and services that can intuitively respond to behaviours — and the world around them — people need to be able to establish context and create a personalization of data.

“Bluemix provides DevOps in the cloud – an open, integrated development experience that scales,” says Stephen Perelgut, IBM Canada’s cloud-business development manager. “DevOps services help developers, independent firms, and enterprise teams get started to build enterprise applications more quickly and effectively.”

With the help of IBM experts, students used the Bluemix platform to tackle their challenges and data sets. By Sunday, teams had to create a good idea and a basic prototype of an app or service. IBM and other industry partners completed the judging.

“I was very impressed by the participants,” adds Perelgut. “[They] took in a three-hour demonstration and applied it in many different ways to develop solutions that merged multiple data bases, ran on desktops, tablets, and smartphones, and addressed the challenge successfully at many levels.”

And the winner is…

A team of three third- and fourth-year Computer Science and Informatics students (Dylan Pomeroy, Eric Desjardins, and Wilson Chiang) was behind the winning app, Food Piper, designed to connect customers to local restaurants.

Food Piper uses publicly-available data to locate food establishments, while also highlighting specials and package deals. The team used Bluemix’s capabilities to scrape data, quickly build a database and model it into a map suitable for a number of different devices. The team behind Food Piper intends on trying to develop their idea into a commercial product supported by ShiftKey Labs.

Other products included an extreme-event app that used a published open data set describing abandoned mines; an app that blended open-data listings of all hospitals and clinics with a plan of acquiring real-time data about emergency care wait times; an app to identify when rising sea levels would cause an area to be underwater; and one designed to share areas of items of interest (schools, jobs, etc.) with people moving to a new neighbourhood.

“First- and second-year students generated very interesting ideas and created very impressive prototypes, showing how competitive they were with senior undergraduate and graduate students,” says Grant Wells, program manager of ShiftKey. “In particular, it was fascinating to see the first- and second-year team, Settlr, read through dozens of data sets to pull together five for their product, whereas most other teams only implemented one or two data sets.”

Helping students expand their skills

Speaking about the event, Minister Kousoulis described the Government of Nova Scotia’s goal of allowing individuals, businesses, students and researchers alike to use the Open Data Portal to apply fresh eyes to public problems or to create jobs and business opportunities.

“It’s my hope the students who took part in the hackathon used data to look at a problem through a different lens – or used two seemingly unrelated datasets to spur a business idea they can grow in Nova Scotia,” he said.

Opportunities like the hackathon also allow for more collaboration within industry and give students the opportunity to explore really rich publicly available data. With no context set in place, students have the freedom to be innovative.

“The ultimate goal of events like these are to drive innovation,” says Andrew Rau-Chaplin, dean of the Faculty of Computer Science. “They not only bring together students from diverse backgrounds and institutions to tackle a challenge in a very short period of time, they inspire creative thinking around problem solving — something we want to instill in our students.”

Written by: Allison Kincade

Hacking Healthcare Solutions Using Allscripts Development Tools

Over the weekend of January 23rd and 24th, students at Dalhousie University participated in the Allscripts Developer Training Workshop and Code-a-Thon. The goal: to create an innovative solution to a healthcare-related “challenge” as presented by the Allscripts on-site support team or another challenge identified by the student team using the Allscripts Unity API – a suite of tools open to the third-party developer community.

To kick things off, students spent three hours learning all about the Allscripts developer portal, Unity API, and how they can integrate these tools into the developer’s preferred workflows and environment. After the training, students were treated to lunch and the Allscripts support staff presented a design challenge to the students. Over the next hour or so, students formed small project teams and began working on the presented challenge or a challenge of their own choosing. Students continued to work feverishly on possible solutions up to the idea presentation showcase at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Unlike most hack-a-thons, idea pitches were not judged but instead, event attendees, including Dr. Raza Abidi of NICHE Research Group, participated in a lively Q&A period following each presentation.

All parties felt that there were many positive outcomes from this event including the strengthening of connections between students, the faculty, and Allscripts. Students also benefitted from free access to the Allscripts Developer Portal, including hands-on training and support at the event on how to code using the Allscripts Unity API. Several great ideas were generated as potential healthcare-related solutions and all partners have committed to providing the necessary supports for student developers wishing to continue development.

Team 42—WAP
Team 42—WAP
Team DBES
Team DBES

Technology Innovation Course Launching January 2016

This winter, we are offering the brand new Technology Innovation course. It is now open for registration. The course incorporates elements of entrepreneurial mindset, design thinking, UI + UX, rapid prototyping, and software engineering to address the growing demand in industry for workers who possess these skills and for developers in the startup space.

Interdisciplinary Design students from NSCAD University will be joining students at Dalhousie University in this unique, multi-institutional classroom hosted at ShiftKey Labs every Monday from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Students will be introduced to entrepreneurial mindset and design thinking in weeks one and two of the course. In week three, an industry expert/researcher will present a design challenge to students who will then form small project teams and work together for the remainder of the semester. Teams will apply the concepts learned in-class to solve the challenge balancing the viability and feasibility of the idea from both business and technical perspectives. A variety of subject matter experts, technical experts, coaches, and other supports will be integrated in to the course to ensure that project teams have the resources needed to be successful. The course will conclude with a public showcase of each project to peers, faculty members, researchers, and the broader community.

If you would like to see the detailed course outline, please access the CSCI 4190/6904—Technology Innovation shared document. Please note that this course is restricted to students in their 3rd year of studies or above. Undergraduate students should register for CSCI 4190 and graduate students should register for CSCI 6904 through the Academic Timetable.

Helpful hacking – Dal News – Dalhousie University

Innovacorp and ShiftKey Labs — the Dal-hosted information and communications technology sandbox — set the stage for the first-ever Halifax Smart Energy App Challenge this fall.

Kicking off with a “Hackathon” event in late September, 40 participants across 10 teams were challenged to develop a new app to benefit participants in Halifax’s Solar City program, which offers homeowners and businesses in Halifax solar energy options.

Continue reading “Helpful hacking – Dal News – Dalhousie University”

Students Build Online Resumes with the help of WordPress, Microsoft Azure

On November 16, students from Dalhousie, St. Mary’s, NSCC and NSCAD came out to learn more about the advantages of building an online résumé. Dalhousie’s three Microsoft Student Partners hosted the event to teach students about WordPress, the Azure Cloud and useful online résumé techniques.

Microsoft Student Partners
Microsoft Student Partners

Students gained valuable skills and learned how an online résumé is a great tool to stand out as a candidate in today’s job market. Students were also given an introduction to a Content Management System and to the Azure Cloud.

ShiftKey Labs was happy to provide the venue for this event as well as lend promotional support to the schools involved to get the message out to students!

Special thanks to Colin Melia, Microsoft Regional Director, for leading this session.

Students Heed Advice at Common Founder Pitfalls Event

In the afternoon of November 5, presenter Colin Conrad shared the common pitfalls faced by founders when building teams, searching for capital and determining equity shares. Based on Noam Wasserman’s Founder’s Dilemmas, we discussed what the data has to say about the characteristics of a strong founding team, common founder pitfalls, and the statistical impact of key early decisions on a startup company two years down the road.

Colin Conrad, a PhD student at Dalhousie studying through the Faculties of Management and Computer Science, did a terrific job delivering this presentation to students. Colin has been providing consulting and research services for six post-revenue startup companies in the space of E-commerce or Health since 2012. He also led RealLike, a “gracefully” failed Offline-to-Online point of sales platform for retailers. We were very grateful to learn from his successes and failures along the way and to have him share his experiences with students.

ShiftKey Labs is proud to have planned and organized this event. Students from all partner institutions, including Dal, SMU, NSCAD, NSCC and Volta Labs, were in attendance at the event.

Design Thinking: A Framework for Innovation

On November 4, ShiftKey Labs members took part in Design Thinking event. Facilitated by Jenny Baechler, participants learned about the tools and techniques of design thinking as an approach to innovation. We explored ideas from some of the leaders in design thinking including Tim Brown, David Kelly and Roger Martin. These leaders have made design thinking an important piece of the start-up ecosystem.  Topics included building a culture of innovation and creative problem solving. These topics provide teams with resources to tackle early-stage ideation – strategies for brainstorming, framing opportunities and creating human-centred solutions that have an impact. Students loved taking part in this hands-on, high-energy workshop!

jenny-baechler
Jenny Baechler

Facilitator Jenny Baechler is the Associate Director of the Corporate Residency MBA program and a Lecturer for the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University. She holds an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the European University Centre for Peace Studies and is a PhD Candidate in Dalhousie’s Interdisciplinary PhD program. Her research integrates the fields of public administration, peace/conflict studies, international development studies and complexity theory and explores opportunities for and barriers to cross-boundary collaboration (whole-of-government) within the context of international stabilization and peacebuilding efforts.

ShiftKey Labs would like to say a huge thanks to Ms. Baechler for facilitating the workshop and for all students who participated!

Design Thinking Workshop

Dalhousie University Faculty of Computer Science Society “Game Jam”

The Dalhousie University Faculty of Computer Science Society, in collaboration with ShiftKey Labs, presented Game Jam over the weekend of October 24-25. This event provided the opportunity for all interested parties to come out and make a small game over the course of the weekend. Collaboration was key at this event, as those more experienced lent a helping hand to participants who had never even heard of a Game Jam before! This event offered an early opportunity for Computer Science students to get some hands-on learning and also allowed for those with a general interest to try their hand at game creation.

For those with less experience, the society hosted a tutorial session leading up to the Game Jam on October 14. The session was focused on how to use Unity which is a very popular engine used by teams of all sizes and suitable for games of all sizes; Unity is also one of the most accessible tools out there. The session taught the basic controls and functionality of the engine and how to set up a project.

ShiftKey Labs was thrilled to have sponsored this collaborative hands-on event by providing the venue as well as offering promotional support to get the word out to interested members at NSCAD, NSCC, SMU and Dalhousie University.

ShiftKey Labs was JAM-PACKED for this exciting event!
ShiftKey Labs was JAM-PACKED for this exciting event!

Game Demo Screenshots

A clone of the classic game "Asteroids"
A clone of the classic game “Asteroids”
A "university simulator" game
A “university simulator” game

Big Data Congress Education Day

Halifax hosted one of the world’s largest premiere Big Data for business conferences from October 19-21. The conference brought together business, government, and academia to discover how Big Data is contributing to business productivity and to our day-to-day lives. Partners of the conference included big names like Google, Boeing, Cisco, IBM, Hitachi, Adobe and NTT Data.

During the final day of this exciting conference there was an Education Event specifically designed for high school students to connect them to entrepreneurship and technology. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is supported approximately 600 students from all across the province to attend the event and hear about the impact that technology has on the world around them. The focus of the day was entrepreneurship, technology, hands-on learning, and engagement – which was perfectly aligned with our goals here at ShiftKey Labs. This portion of the event included guest speakers, mentoring opportunities, idea generation, workshops and more!

ShiftKey Labs had a great day promoting NS Sandboxes to high school students and facilitating a business model design challenge during this event.

Big Data Educationsandbox