A Look Back on the Red River College Polytechnic Sprint to Innovate Hackathon

July 4, 2022

More than 100 postsecondary students from schools across Manitoba took part in the Sprint to Innovate: The Innovation Challenge hackathon presented by the City of Winnipeg and hosted by Riipen partner Red River College Polytechnic (RRC Polytech). Over the span of 3 days, students from varied disciplines such as technology, business, entrepreneurship, worked in teams of 4 to 6, to tackle a business challenge provided by industry partners. Under the guidance of their mentors and in collaboration with their employer-partner, the student teams worked together on a solution to the proposed challenge, including developing a prototype which they presented to judges on the final day.

Cristy Kubara, Strategy Coordinator at RRC Polytech and Lead Organizer of the Sprint to Innovate hackathon, understands the importance of experiential learning and the value of hands-on experience for students. “Working on actual projects gives such an invaluable experience to the students so that when they go out into the workforce, they know the process,” shared Cristy. “With Sprint to Innovate, that experience really gave students from Red River College Polytechnic, University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba that hands-on experience of working with a client and actually producing something using the design thinking process and doing that experiential learning.”

WATCH: RRC Polytech educators, students, and employer partners talk about their Riipen experience

The Challenges

Various employers provided real-world business challenges for students to tackle, including: helping the City of Winnipeg facilitate public feedback to improve municipal programming, and encourage engagement and high voter participation for the 2022 municipal election, helping RRC Polytech blend in-class and online learnings into classes and programs, develop engaging and effective Cyber Security awareness training delivery, and create an educational and fun Internet of Things (IoT) Centre of Excellence, helping My Student Wellbeing create engaging mental health and wellbeing related content for postsecondary students, helping Neo Financial acquire new cardholders in a target demographic and increasing brand loyalty through innovative marketing initiatives, and helping Manitoba Women In Agriculture And Food services develop strategies to increase purchases of subscriptions by women.

The Student Experience

Afsane Baghestani, a student at the University of Manitoba, who took third place in the overall event with his Team Cmurgh, worked with Tyler Phill, Founder and CEO of My Student Wellbeing on a challenge sourced through the Riipen platform, focusing on the question "How might we make the format for consuming mental health and wellbeing related content engaging for post-secondary students?"

Afsane shared, “Working on an important challenge from a real employer gave us the opportunity to find a way to use our academic knowledge to solve a real issue.” What he found most interesting was applying his knowledge to suggest realistic solutions to a real-world issue, break it down into smaller components and find ways to tackle them step by step. Another important element for Afsane was to learn how to collaborate with others. “As we were a team, I learned how to work efficiently with others, listen to their ideas and try to make a solution better by discussing. This event helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses so I gained confidence and also understood where I should work harder to improve myself.”

The Dream Team was another multi-school team that participated in the event, and tackled the same challenge as Team Cmurgh. The team included students from The University of Winnipeg, RRC Polytech, and University of Manitoba. Student Navdeep Kaur Sran, from the RRC Polytech Business Technology Management Program shared how his team developed empathy and collaboration quickly. “We were able to work together by understanding each other's abilities and dividing the work accordingly. This is what I liked the most about [the experience] as we were just strangers to each other but still able to adapt to this new team environment.” Navdeep also shared his appreciation for the employer with whom his team collaborated. “Working with our challenge representative, Tyler Phill, was awesome. In our first meeting, we had good insights about the project requirements and our client's expectations. Our team had brainstorming sessions to better understand and cater to the needs of the project.” Through this challenge, Navdeep learned about innovation, and collaboration by working with post-secondary students from other schools. “It was all about problem-solving and creating a solution as a minimum viable prototype to a real business challenge. I felt very excited from the day I met my new team and the journey turned out to be fabulous.”

Similar comments were shared by one of Navdeep’s teammates, RRC Polytech student Lukas Wagener.  “I am still very new [to hackathons], but it was still a very interesting experience because I had four other teammates, who were all complete strangers from different schools,” said Lukas. “So it was great seeing how well we all came together and collaborated.” As Lukas decided to take on the presentation portion of the challenge into his own hands, he mentioned that “despite it being a bit of a heady experience, I'm all the better for it, I would love to come back and I'm excited to do this again.”

The Employer Experience

Tyler Phill, Founder and CEO of My Student Wellbeing, was impressed by the choice of courses and student talent he could connect to. With My Student Wellbeing being a bootstrap startup and the first venture of its kind for Tyler, he had to be very resourceful to drive growth and decided to submit his business project to the Sprint to Innovate Challenge. 

For Tyler, working with the students as part of the challenge was a fantastic experience for several reasons. “The big thing I think, is to see the passion that students have around mental health and wellbeing and, supporting what I'm trying to do with My Student Wellbeing, but also in terms of the ideas that they gave with their projects and presentations. From their very first meeting, “I was blown away by the numerous insightful questions the students asked and tried not to steer them in any direction as I knew that the students would have brilliant and innovative ideas.” Tyler did not set any restrictions on the potential budget so students could unleash their imaginations to brainstorm what would engage their peers to consume this type of content.

“The whole experience was incredible, I heard ideas that I didn't think about before and that I'm absolutely going to try to integrate into the business, going forward.” Tyler also connected with some of the students afterwards to offer them his support and mentorship for potential entrepreneurship startups, mental health concerns, possible job opportunities in the future as he understands that it's an opportunity for them to network, either with him or with other businesses and that those connections can really help them go far in life. 

This is just another example of how valuable student-employer collaborations can be. It is truly a win-win for everyone. 

Thank you to Cristy, Afsane, Navdeep, Lukas and Tyler for sharing their experiences with us. Curious about what Riipen can do for you? Visit our website to learn more or book a custom demo below. Connect with Riipen on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter to stay in the know!