This fall, I was excited to extend my summer internship with the marketing team at NEXT Canada and have the opportunity to experience the very beginnings of 2018 recruitment for the incoming Next 36, NextAI, and Next Founders cohorts. The financial industry is often seen as being slow to innovate but that is definitely not the case with TD Canada Bank. This September, we joined TD’s marketing department for an employee event called “Ready for the Future”, organized by visionary CMO Theresa McLaughlin to expose her team to new ideas and technologies.From visiting campuses across Ontario for the National Campus Tour, to seeking the most entrepreneurial candidates to take part in National Selection Weekend, my favourite part of the season was helping organize and execute the Next 36 Startup Sprint.
For the second year in a row, Next 36 wrapped up the National Campus Tour in October by partnering with Lighthouse Labs to host the Next 36 Startup Sprint: a weekend-long, multidisciplinary Startup Weekend-Hackathon hybrid that welcomed young innovators from diverse backgrounds and schools across Canada to bring their biggest entrepreneurial ideas to life. With the theme of “National Disruption”, participants spent the weekend learning, collaborating, prototyping and hacking away at ideas that have the potential to go on to be world-changing startups.
At the outset of the weekend, the participants were welcomed with informative and thought-provoking talks from experienced founders and industry experts on emerging markets. On Friday night, we were joined by Ben Zifkin (Co-founder & CEO, Hubba) for a fireside chat. Participants had the chance to learn about the life of a Toronto-based entrepreneur who has grown his startup from the ground up into a successful company. Some of the key takeaways from his chat were:
- Attract the right customers, employees, and investors, and be fiercely loyal.
- Be the smartest person in one thing, or be the best at managing smart people.
- Believe that you’re building something huge, and sell it to your customers, employees and investors.
Following Ben’s fireside chat, Alan Smithson (CEO, MetaVrse) hosted a breakout session on the future of augmented reality and virtual reality. He reminded the audience that AR/VR is not a new industry, but its rapid development in enterprise will start to see mass consumer adoption very soon.
Concurrently, Iliana Oris Valiente (Global Blockchain Innovation Lead, Accenture), gave a talk on cryptocurrency and blockchain. Her most prominent blockchain initiative, ColliderX, is a perfect model for how intrapreneurship can allow for disruption and innovation within larger corporations. ColliderX is the world’s first open-sourced, crowdsourced, and crowdfunded applied blockchain research and development hub.
— Next 36 (@next36) October 14, 2017
After a night full of learnings and insights shared by industry leaders, the participants were eager to disperse into teams and begin to hack away the weekend.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, participants kicked off the day with a Design Sprint led by Next 36 alumna Chenny Xia (Innovation Leader, The Moment) and her colleague, Heather Daam (Innovation Designer, The Moment). The purpose of the Design Sprint was to map out the problem each team wanted to tackle, decide what to focus on, and begin to prototype their solution.
— Chenny Xia (@journeyinnovate) October 14, 2017
The Design Sprint set the stage for heads-down hacking the rest of the day, and put the teams on the right track ahead of Mock Pitches the next day.
The following morning, we invited a panel of Next 36 alumni and NEXT supporters, including Idil Omar (Chief of Staff, NEXT Canada), Mykyta Ponomarenko (Consultant), Karel Vuong (Head of Community, Portag3), and Elijah Moore (CEO & Co-Founder, Collage HR), to provide a fresh perspective on the participants’ projects ahead of the final judging panel later that afternoon.
Each and every team brought exceptional ideas to the table. From auto-investing in cryptocurrency, medical tech, and AI-powered solutions, to social enterprise, energy, and IoT, the judges were impressed by the participants’ creativity and their backgrounds.
After a couple more hours of final touches, followed by a round-robin expo style judging round, the top five Startup Sprint teams were selected to pitch in front of the final panel of judges: Mike Silagadze (Founder and CEO, Top Hat), Candice Faktor (Partner, Faktory Ventures), Andrea Matheson (Interim CEO, NEXT Canada), and Chris Mudiappahpillai (Director of Operations, TWG).
By the end of the day, three winning teams rose to the top. Receiving first place was team HealthBridge who built an app designed to handle medical translation and break down communication barriers between doctors and patients by leveraging Watson API.
“The biggest takeaway was being in a room with other like minded thinkers who were talented, driven, and equally passionate about creating disruptive impact,” said Haman Mamdouhi of team HealthBridge. “It was absolutely encouraging to be recognized for tackling a problem we’re personally driven by, and to receive valuable feedback from the judges, speakers, and mentors, which along with their honest experiences in the field is going to shape me as an entrepreneur from here going forward.”
In second place, team Dashr built an app which uses computer vision to identify and alert drivers when they are speeding, fatigued, falling asleep, or not paying attention to the road.
“As the youngest member of the team, my main contribution to this project was to help with the pitch,” said Manvir Ahluwalia, a grade 9 student at Turner Fenton Secondary school. “I helped prepare questions that the judges could ask us, and provided feedback in our practice pitches. I also went around offering any help that I could to any member of the group.”
Finally, in third place, team Besify created a platform which lets users have free access to Wi-Fi no matter where they go by tapping into nearby businesses’ extra bandwidth.
“Being one of the youngest people in the room, I knew I was surrounded by people I could learn from,” said Tommy Moffat, a Grade 10 student at Assumption Catholic Secondary School. “The speakers, mentors, and participants each taught me something unique, and that’s what made my experience so valuable.”
While only the first place team got a spot at the 2018 Next 36 National Selection Weekend, every team left the Startup Sprint a winner, as they all received a valuable experience with an opportunity to meet like-minded, entrepreneurial students and insight into what the Next 36 could hold for them.
Thank you to our Space Partner, Lighthouse Labs, and Community Partners: Hubba, Platterz, Top Hat, TWG, RightSleeve, Thalmic Labs, and MetaVRse.