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Local students hack their way to a win in OneNS competition

STELLARTON – Local NSCC students were among the winners of a recent competition that tackled a real issue facing Nova Scotia.

Students from the NSCC Pictou Campus participated in the Island Sandbox OneNS Hackathon on Friday and Saturday. They are shown listening to details about the challenge from their instructor.

The Island Sandbox OneNS Hackathon brought together post-secondary students from five different college and university campuses, including NSCC Pictou, NSCC Marconi, NSCC Strait, Saint Mary’s University and Cape Breton University, who were challenged to come up with solutions for a problem affecting Nova Scotians. Teams were made up of students from various locations and they remained at their own campus on Friday and Saturday, communicating with their teammates through technology.

Goals of the initiative included giving students the opportunity to work with peers from around the province and to learn from each other, to design solutions to issues identified in the OneNS report and to have fun.

“It’s to create opportunities to experience entrepreneurship and collaborate and network around the province, and find innovative solutions for real issues in our province,” said Anne McDonah, a faculty member in the school of business who organized the event at the Stellarton campus. “It’s a good exercise in communication and teamwork.”

Within a 24-hour time period, the students had to brainstorm and collaborate to develop a product that could provide distance learning to people between the ages of five and 16.

Jim Bate, academic chair for the school of business who provided oversight for the event, said the short time frame is key. “It’s an in-depth process to get a solution. It gives an immediate deadline and forces them to work hard to come up with a solution, and it’s fun. It’s a great learning experience.”

Jacob Nelson, Lisa MacLellan and Samantha Corbett are business students at the Pictou campus who were members of the second-place team, while Cecely Gilby, Melissa Stewart and Rebecca McLeod were on the third-place team.

The second-place idea was called AbaraKaZoo, while the third-place idea was Young NS.

First place went to Kite Academy, created by a team of students from SMU, NSCC Marconi and Cape Breton University. Their concept is an organization that would present children and youth with weekly challenges to explore their entrepreneurial skills.

The top three teams who created the most practical solutions received cash prizes to pursue the development of their idea. The winning team collected $3,000, while the second- and third-place teams received $1,800 and $700 respectively.

Twenty-six students from the local NSCC campus participated in the Hackathon, which involved a total of 70 participants on eight teams. They came from different programs of study, including marketing, business, design and coding.

At different intervals during the 24 hours of the Hackathon, guest speakers offered advice and insight through videos shown to the participants. They spoke about topics such as research, product development and pitching products, while Jeff Davis of Stashbelt spoke about the concept of being an entrepreneur.

Davis, of New Glasgow, and his partners developed the StashBelt, an ethically sourced leather belt with space for money, travel documents and USB storage. They appeared on CBC’s Dragon Den, and secured a deal with one of the show’s investors.

The Island Sandbox, an initiative acting as a springboard for business ideas and support, and the OneNS Hackathon, a challenge issued and judged by the OneNS Coalition, are responses to the Now or Never report on Building our New Economy, issued by Ray Ivany last year. “The event exceeded our expectations in terms of the number of students who were involved and the diversity of the programs and schools they represented,” said Derek Mombourquette, Island Sandbox coordinator. “We had graphic design, IT and business students all working together.”

The event was so successful that NSCC and the Island Sandbox are looking to launch a larger, province-wide hackathon this fall.

“One of Nova Scotia's richest assets is our post-secondary students and their ideas,” said Mike Kelloway, NSCC’s senior manager of Customized Learning and Entrepreneurship. “At NSCC, it’s our job to help students uncover them. Based on the solutions we saw presented, I can only imagine what a provincial event will bring.”

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan explains that the OneNS Hackathon is an example of the immense entrepreneurial spirit alive in our province.

“The success of the OneNS Hackathon clearly shows that Nova Scotia students are eager to work together to help solve some of the challenges our province is facing,” she said. “Sandboxes are working; they give innovative and entrepreneurial students places where they can collaborate and experiment with new ideas, and access the mentors, resources and tools to take their ideas to the next level.”

As part of the Hackathon, each team created a video to pitch their product. The videos can be viewed at:

First place idea: Kite Academy<>


Second place idea: AbaraKaZoo<


Third place idea: Young NS<>


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