April 6, 2023

Entrepreneurial Thinking Month strikes a chord as startup ideas pour in from across UCalgary campus

Hunter Hub marks milestone month of exploring innovative solutions, pitching concepts, and networking
Nasid Islam, left, and Steven Ma present the Autosoles concept to the Liftoff! competition.
Nasid Islam, left, and Steven Ma present the Autosoles concept at the Liftoff! competition. Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

Embracing the entrepreneurial mindset, the Hunter Hub dedicated the month of March to celebrating entrepreneurial thinking and innovation at the University of Calgary. And what a month: Hundreds of UCalgary students, faculty, staff, alumni, and industry partners took part in four marquee events. 

In the Liftoff! Competition — the conclusion of the Hunter Hub’s flagship co-curricular Launchpad program — students interested in starting their own venture pitched how they could turn their ideas into reality. There were over 130 applicants for the Launchpad program, with 62 per cent being undergraduate students.

For the first time, the Launchpad application pool also included submissions from faculty, staff, and alumni. And this year, almost every faculty on campus was represented, as applications were received from the faculties of nursing, law, social work, and the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape for the first time — marking a program milestone.

Liftoff! winners, from left: Kyle Wu, Hady Ahmed, Nasid Islam, and Steven Ma.

Liftoff! winners, from left: Kyle Wu, Hady Ahmed, Nasid Islam, and Steven Ma.

Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

Liftoff! Competition caps exciting month

Thirty Launchpad teams created ventures around health care, fintech, construction, oil and gas, and consumer products. After six months of research, coaching, and development, eight teams were selected as finalists to pitch their startup idea to a panel of judges for $5,000 in funding.

The winner was Autosoles, a team of four students from the Schulich School of Engineering who created a foldable, pocket-sized electric skate for shoes. Their device can reduce a 30-minute commute to just 12 minutes with zero emissions, saving commuters time and energy while having fun.

“What engineering has taught us is how to have a goal, really pursue that goal, and not stop until you achieve that goal. And that's what entrepreneurship is all about,” says Hady Ahmed of Autosoles.

The Launchpad program aims to bring entrepreneurial thinking to faculties that may not see themselves as entrepreneurs. “It's been really good to actually see what we're capable of designing, and also learn more about how my creativity works,” says Kyle Wu. Other Autosoles team members were Nashid Islam and Steven Ma.

Liftoff! People's Choice WInner, pictured left to right: Nathalie Drzewiecki, Elian Dupre Sarmiento, Ryan Baker, Peter Shmerko, and Hamza Syed

Liftoff! People's Choice wInner, from left: Nathalie Drzewiecki, Elian Dupre Sarmiento, Ryan Baker, Peter Shmerko, and Hamza Syed.

Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

The other seven teams in the Liftoff! finals were:

  • Advocacy and Innovation in Child Prosthetics Foundation: Brandon Pentz, Kristen Graham, Sina Valizadeh, Hemanth Veeraghanta, Devjyoti Dutta
  • PELTA: Christian Aguilar, Gabriel Vanorio Cilento, Harsh Shah, Jay Chang, Long Tran, Rod Babic
  • Finberry: Haseeb Khan, Brooke Mitchell, Gary Wu, Hassan Tariq, Daniel Long)
  • Hidden Gemz: Ranique Mclaughlin, Evan Lester, Arian Haghighat
  • Assemble Health: Winston Cheung, Brandon Pentz, Tina Wong
  • Climate Change Materials: Cigdem Demirkaya, Anna Ulrich, Jesus Guayaquil Sosa, Paola Herrera
  • Equusense: Nathalie Drzewiecki, Elian Dupre Sarmiento, Hamza Syed, Peter Shmerko, Ryan Baker

In-person attendees voted for a People’s Choice Award. Equusense, from the Schulich School of Engineering, is a startup that provides real-time remote horse monitoring to owners of outdoor boarded horses, improving owners’ peace of mind.

From left: Keri Damen, Karen Benzies, Diana Frost, Ghada Nafie, and Alessandra Amato

From left: Keri Damen, Karen Benzies, Diana Frost, Ghada Nafie, and Alessandra Amato.

Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

Entrepreneurial Leaders networking event

The Hunter Hub launched its first Entrepreneurial Leaders networking event of the year in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Four inspiring women who have made a tremendous impact on our health-care system, culture, and environment were celebrated. Dr. Karen Benzies, PhD, RN, Diana Frost, Dr. Ghada Nafie, PhD, and Alessandra Amato took part in a panel discussion on how they found their idea and built their venture. If you missed the panel, you can find the recording on the Hunter Hub’s YouTube channel.

Map the System Winners, pictured from left to right: The Divers, Assemble Health, and Glow Getters

Map the System winners, from left: The Divers, Assemble Health, and Glow Getters.

Ricky Lam, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking

Map the System: Applying systems thinking to pressing problems

March also saw the conclusion of Map the System, an interdisciplinary challenge that sees participants develop a deep understanding of pressing social or environmental issues using a systems-thinking approach. Three teams won a prize pool of $4,500 to further their research and ideas. 

The Divers won third place with their exploration of the factors that contribute to the mental health challenges of marginalized undergraduate students in Alberta. The team consists of Hayley Ngo (first year, Bachelor of Commerce), Sarah Joy Mendoza (first year, Bachelor of Commerce), and Emmanuel Amaechi (MA, Educational Research in Learning Sciences).

Second place went to the team of Theo Van der Westhuizen (fourth year, Bachelor of Commerce and Embedded Certificate in Entrepreneurial Thinking) and Dayna Lysak (fourth year, Bachelor of Commerce). Their team, Glow Getters, explored the exceeding demands for electricity in South Africa, and the planned interruptions that affect business growth and day-to-day life. 

And the winner of the 2023 Map the System UCalgary finals was Assemble Health, consisting of Winston Cheung (postgrad, family medicine), Tina Wong (Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia), and Brandon Pentz (UCalgary alumnus, MSc Kinesiology). Their team explored the reasons behind the shortage of family physicians in Canada and ways the health-care system can be optimized to better address this issue.

Assemble Health will represent UCalgary at the Canadian semifinal this spring. We wish them the best of luck!

National Hackathon Finals

The Hunter Hub kicked off the month with Experience Venture’s National Hackathon Finals. Teams across Canada worked alongside community innovators to develop breakthrough resilient food systems. 

The winning team was SustainStudent from Toronto Metropolitan University. SustainStudent serves as a virtual food hub for students. It connects them with food-related resources that are easily accessible and non-stigmatizing. The app has four key functions that can be adapted for use on any post-secondary campus.

“The hackathon allowed me to think innovatively about solving a concerning problem: food security on post-secondary campuses,” said Olivia Chow, whose team secured first place. “It was also wonderful to work with my teammates from different programs of study; we were able to contribute diverse perspectives, skills, and knowledge.” Read more about the Hackathon Finals

To learn more about participating in any of these programs next semester, contact the Hunter Hub at hunterhub@ucalgary.ca.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.