May 8, 2020

Patient social networks, mobile rural testing vehicles, UV disinfecting tools and more pitched in health-care hackathon

Student teams from 11 Canadian post-secondary institutions fight pandemic at a distance
Team 33
Team 33

Last week saw the COVID-19 Intervention Challenge (CIC) kick off, with the entire event taking place virtually. The event saw nearly 200 post-secondary students, representing 11 different universities and colleges across Canada. Students formed 56 teams that came together between April 29 and May 2 to build innovative solutions for non-traditional COVID-19 care spaces.

Mobilizing a variety of different communication tools, virtual workshops, and navigating five different time zones, these interdisciplinary student teams submitted 38 pitch videos. The teams pitched everything from patient social networks, to mobile rural testing vehicles, to UV disinfecting tools. It was an astounding testament to the great work that can be done in a short period of time.

“CIC is an excellent opportunity for students from different disciplines to hone their entrepreneurial mindsets and work together on developing innovative solutions to pressing issues,” says Keri Damen, executive director for the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.

  • Photo above: CIC Winning team members Rachel Stefaniuk, Jade Rosenberger and Kirsten Webster from University of Alberta

“Given the rapidly changing nature of the world today, there has never been a time where being entrepreneurial and finding innovative solutions to real-life challenges such as COVID-19 has been more urgent.”

Great ideas are interdisciplinary

The student teams comprised individuals from over 18 different disciplines of study, from architecture and the arts, to engineering and science, to medicine and nursing, and everything in between. The first prize was presented to a team from the University of Alberta, with team member backgrounds including kinesiology and education, biology and public health, and immunology. Their idea was titled COVID Cruiser.

“Our team addressed a need we saw as citizens of rural Canada, and we leveraged our interdisciplinary perspectives to consider all angles of our proposed solution,” says team member, Rachel Stefaniuk. COVID Cruiser aims to create a mobile testing centre to decrease the need for clinic visits in rural and immune-compromised populations. This can be accomplished with new vehicles or by retrofitting existing vehicles not currently in use, such as school buses and food trucks.

COVID cruiser

“It is our hope this idea can be further developed and implemented to address the accessibility challenges faced by rural and remote citizens. Thank you to the Hunter Hub for this unique opportunity, especially in a time where innovation in health care is especially needed.”

Other top prizes went to student teams from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University. A new mask design to be worn by patients in hospital was developed by two students from UCalgary and their Mount Royal counterparts. A scientifically vetted informational newsletter sourced from health and news outlets was the brainchild of four Mount Royal students.

Building CIC virtually

Hosted by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking out of the University of Calgary, CIC 2020 was the first virtual iteration of this competition format. With promotional support from Mount Royal University and the University of Alberta, this is the largest CIC in the event’s five-year history. Previous competitions took place over 48 hours with team development, mentorship and pitches all taking place in-person.

The COVID-19 version of CIC was proposed after conversations with Dr. Peter Sargious and Dr. Nishan Sharma, both of W21C Research and Innovation Centre. A need was identified for potential innovations to be implemented in non-traditional COVID-19 care spaces. An example of one of these spaces is the new field hospital at the Peter Lougheed Centre, constructed by Falkbuilt Ltd.

We have seen great results from interdisciplinary teams in past CIC competitions, and during the pandemic, we needed to quickly mobilize the potential of our post-secondary students.

“We wanted to provide a means for students to become actively involved in the fight against COVID-19. Research shows that interdisciplinary teamwork provides more well-rounded innovations, and that has no doubt been the case in this competition,” says Sharma.

The goal of CIC has always been to empower students to create practical innovations that are relatively simple to realize. Winning teams from the 2020 COVID-19 Intervention Challenge won not only cash prizes, but have also been given the opportunity to pursue their idea through research and potential implementation into the health-care system.

To see the pitch videos from the top teams and honorable mentions, please visit the CIC web page.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.