Student teams served food for thought at the Experience Ventures National Hackathon finals. The second annual hackathon presented students from post-secondary institutions across Canada with one big question: “What accessible, impactful, and scalable solutions can post-secondary schools implement to improve food security on campus?”
Food security is a big issue, and the question encouraged students to attack it from various angles. Students from different disciplines were grouped into teams at the 12 schools participating in Experience Ventures, powered by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary. This approach promotes collaboration, taking initiative, and creative problem-solving, all key tenets of entrepreneurial thinking.
The hackathon kicked off on January 26 with a virtual event that introduced teams to design thinking and let them hear from experts in the field of food security. After that, teams had two weeks to devise a solution and create a pitch. The first round of judging arrived at three finalists. Each team had a little more than a week to hone their presentation before the final on March 7.
Students who participated in the National Hackathon received an honorarium of $325. The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at UCalgary provided another $5,000 in cash prizes. The Hunter Hub powers Experience Ventures to give students opportunities to participate in entrepreneurial thinking placements that let them hone their entrepreneurial thinking skills. It’s all about making students future-ready, which involves being creative in finding innovative solutions while taking initiative, exchanging knowledge across disciplines, being resourceful, and learning from experience.
Part of being future-ready is having a network to draw on. Experience Ventures helps students make those connections with fellow students, mentors, and the venture and social partners that offer students valuable experience. They might even be with people like the three judges at the final, all of whom engage with issues around food security in their careers.
Lavina Gully is the regional innovation director for British Columbia and the Yukon at the Canadian Food Innovation Network. CFIN champions innovation and collaboration in the Canadian food sector. She is also a food scientist with experience in product development. Nikita Scringer is the director of operations at Fresh Routes, which brings fresh, healthy food to underserved communities. Peter Thompson, founder of HaaS (Home as a Service), rounded out the expert panel. He gave the students a brief but impactful summary of the importance of food security. “Food is the basis of everything that allows for our well-being,” he said. “It’s the basis of our economy. Without surplus food, there is no surplus in anything else — there is no profit in any other business.”
The finalists came from Ontario Tech University, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Queen’s University. Each team had five minutes to impress the judges who assessed their solution as well as how they would roll it out, finance it, and scale it up.
First up at the final was the team from Ontario Tech University. The six team members pitched Circular Meals, which centres on growing food on campus either hydroponically or in greenhouses. The fresh berries and greens would be provided to students and bartered with local stores and producers to get additional ingredients needed to create balanced meals.
The team from Queen’s University took the judges through Good2Go. Their solution creates a store on campus supplied by local supermarkets. These businesses donate food they would otherwise discard in exchange for the chance to advertise in the store. The food is sold at cost, and the store is open to all students, so there would be no stigma for shoppers.
The six-member team from TMU pitched Sustain Student, a one-stop virtual food hub. The app includes an Eats Asset Map, a community forum, and help registering for food-related events and services. It also alerts students when campus events wrap up with food left over. Students then have 30 minutes to swing by and help themselves.
To make a final decision, the expert judges were joined by Anica Vasic, director of talent at the Hunter Hub. The judges were impressed with all the pitches and loved the name Good2Go that the team from Queen’s came up with for its solution. First place and the $2,500 prize went to Sustain Student, the app from the TMU team. They called the app “innovative and creative” and loved that it would be built on an open-source code, making it highly scalable. Second place and $1,500 went to the team from Ontario Tech University. Queen’s University took third place and $1,000.
In her closing remarks, Vasic said that everyone who participated in all stages of the hackathon was a winner. She noted that what they’d learned would become apparent in a few years as they take on new challenges. It’s the very definition of future-ready. It’s also what Experience Ventures is all about.