This post comes to you from Siv Padhy and Mark Wijaya of SFU’s Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Association (IdEA).
Last week we saw proof of what students are capable of when fostered in an environment that values creativity and the pursuit of social impact. SFU’s Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Association (IdEA) recently competed in nwHacks, the largest hackathon in Western Canada. The event specifically revolved around sustainability innovation and drew recruiters from Apple, Facebook, and Google as well as 60 teams from throughout the North West.
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The Series of Events
In 36 hours of non-stop work, a versatile team of students had built a smart paper towel dispenser (named “PullMeNot!”) that displays — with every pull of a towel — sustainability analytics to a user, showing the direct impact of using less paper and creating less waste. The goal here was to approach sustainability by providing shared value to consumers, businesses, and large institutions. Individuals and consumers who interact with the technology are educated on the impact of their personal actions, allowing them to understand sustainability as something more tangible in their daily lives. Businesses can use the data gathered on the backend of the system to see how efficient their operations are and can back up their responsibility to the environment with numbers to show. The IdEA team sees this technology being incorporated into other aspects of daily lives: gyms, water taps, heaters, and key parts of infrastructure. Their hope is that this data can provide a more clear and detailed picture of consumption to allow large institutions to make impacts in sustainability on larger scales. A combination of sleepless nights, vigorous work ethic, and focus on impact garnered them a top 3 award, winning “Top Sustainability Hack” in the entire competition.
The factors towards success
The team believes they were successful due to a focus on impact, the make up of their team, and the presence of creative and entrepreneurial environments at both SFU and UBC. IdEA’s competing team was one of the only multi-disciplinary teams in the competition, mixing business and non-technical members with engineers and computer scientists.  This size and diversity allowed them  to move quickly on their ideas and constantly ensure that the technology was built with business and social context in mind for maximum impact. However, IdEA also recognizes that it is SFU’s community of innovators and mentors that have allowed them to sharpen their skills, and it is UBC’s hacker community and generous use of resources that allowed them to compete and collaborate to truly be successful in achieving impact.
The road ahead
What’s next? The team is currently refining their minimum viable product and working with an excited group of SFU representatives to pilot their product on multiple campuses. From there, they’ll be looking at expanding to different businesses and providing sustainability analytics on a larger and more diversified scale. For the IdEA team, the winning of an award doesn’t signal a final achievement, but rather the beginning of more work to progress the idea and create more impact.

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