NS Sandboxes Bootcamp Fosters Creativity, Innovation for Entrepreneurs

Story by: Allison Kincade, Dalhousie University, Faculty of Computer Science

Not your average summer camp

For the second year in a row, ShiftKey Labs—the Dal-hosted innovation sandbox in the Goldberg Computer Science Building—co-designed and delivered a province-wide bootcamp for budding entrepreneurs, the Creativity and Innovation Bootcamp.

Twelve Dalhousie students worked alongside forty-six others hailing from 7 universities and 6 other sandboxes, to tackle one central issue facing Nova Scotian communities today: How might people who live in Nova Scotia reduce the amount of plastic and paper that ends up in the landfill?

Premier Stephen McNeil stopped by to see the innovation in action, giving a few words of support and encouragement for all involved.

Collaboration is key

The aim of the bootcamp was to help students discover more about their own ability to create unique and impactful responses to real-world challenges, with design-thinking – or human-centered design – at its core.

Last year, teams competed for finalist positions over the course of three months. This year, the human-centered approach saw students also divided into smaller groups, but with the intent of splitting up across the multidisciplinary fields of study with the final objective of advancing stronger student connections within the cohort, and showcasing the real value that comes from collaborating within a diverse group of individuals.

“After last year’s Bootcamp, we felt that the best way to harness the collaborative potential of the entire cohort would be to remove the competitive project ‘pitch’ where the ‘best’ team would win the prize money,” says Grant Wells, manager of ShiftKey Labs.

“I feel that the solutions generated were of a much higher quality, as teams maximized their learning without the barriers to collaboration.”

Master of Applied Computer Science Student and ShiftKey Labs student participant, Shilpa Singh, was pleasantly surprised by the diverse culture backgrounds and fields of study that her peers brought to the bootcamp. “It was great exposure for me; I got a chance to really expand my network,” she says.

Design-thinking and problem solving

The issue at hand was an easy one to get students to buy into. The topic of recycling and reducing contamination of items to be recycled is constantly trending across disciplines – and has an impact on every citizen.

To help tackle the problem at hand, students spent their two weeks immersed in interactive workshops and learning the process, alongside time for independent experimentation. Students were equipped with a handful of approaches to problem solving and practiced new tools for testing and solving ideas.

When asked to reflect on their experience, most students highlight the lessons they learned in brainstorming, noting that their perception on how to approach it has been flipped on its head.

“This was a major life lesson for me on a new way of brainstorming,” Singh says. “Just by using simple techniques like writing your ideas on sticky notes, drawing stick figures to explain the solution, and following the whole procedure of human design thinking, I learned a completely new way of looking at a problem and finding the solution from people’s perspective.”

Students were also encouraged to actually get outside to observe people’s behaviours and talk to them about what they were thinking. “The whole program was conducted in a way where we came up with a solution to a problem, without even realizing we were working on it the whole time!” Singh adds. “This was really a once in a lifetime experience for me.”

Students went from having little to no understanding of what design-thinking even meant to having enough confidence to work individually, in small groups, and a mash-up of groups – to develop ideas that led to solution-driven early prototypes that could impact our society.

“Next year, we will continue to evolve the program and improve upon its success,” says Wells. “I would like even more Dal students to experience this amazing opportunity, take advantage of the variety of skills development programs offered at ShiftKey Labs, and the network of provincial sandboxes.”

Asked what he feels the main value in activities like this is, Wells remarks, “Ultimately, it can be life changing for a student to join our open and welcome community. No matter what, it will further enhance their overall academic experience here at Dalhousie.”

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.

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.