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Haskayne students develop real world technology start-ups

Bridging the gap between academia and industry, course fosters collaboration with Kickstarter and Innovate Calgary to fine-tune ideas
June 2, 2014
The Aller-G-Friend app team — from left: Jessica Tran, Paul Park, Shianne Spiller and Puis Poon — is now in the process of creating a website, meeting with restaurants, developing a logo and making a new video to help with funding.

The Aller-G-Friend app team — from left: Jessica Tran, Paul Park, Shianne Spiller and Puis Poon — is now in the process of creating a website, meeting with restaurants, developing a logo and making a new video to help with funding.

For anyone with food allergies or sensitivities, eating out can be downright challenging. Dietary preferences are on the rise—a societal trend that has inspired a clever team of Haskayne business students to develop a mobile app designed to help food-sensitive Calgarians select restaurants and aisles in supermarkets that offer allergen-free meal options and products with just the click of a button.

Through a unique experiential learning project, Haskayne students were asked to channel their inner entrepreneurial spirit. The challenge, in one semester, was to create technology-focused businesses that could make a positive change in the community, with help from community partners Kickstarter and Innovate Calgary. This is exactly how Haskayne students Shianne Spiller, Jessica Tran, Paul Park and Puis Poon developed the Aller-G-Friend app.

How it all started

In previous years, management information systems instructor, Sharaz Khan asked his students to work on business technology venture scenarios to get them thinking creatively about business and technology. Last fall he decided to do something different.

Highly interested in partnerships between industry and academia, Khan connected with Kickstarter and Innovate Calgary to create a group project in which students were to develop an original technology-based business idea that could eventually become a startup company.  

“The whole idea was to bridge the gap between academic and practical intelligence,” explained Khan. “Launching a new business idea or venture is complex and risky. Having the opportunity to do this within the context of a class provides students with a safe environment to test out their ideas.”

 “We also want to make sure students have a holistic and realistic experience in the classroom, and what better way to do that than working with two incredible companies who bring innovation, entrepreneurship and technology together on a daily basis.”

Kick starting the creative juices

Bringing their expertise to the classroom, Kickstarter worked with Khan to form the project, identifying three main areas of focus: innovation strategy, concept generation and business prototyping. Together, they also determined what was realistic for students to accomplish within the semester. Connecting creative projects and backers is what Kickstarter does best, and they provided students with insight into the success factors needed to attract funding.

“We wanted to push students' disruptive innovation buttons, harness the potential of crowd-sourcing and create unique ideas,” Khan insisted.

Students were required to go through the initial steps with Kickstarter, submitting a detailed online project form and developing a six-minute pitch comprised of a three-minute video viewed by external judges, and a three-minute proposal. Each project was launched on a friends and family Kickstarter web page, and although obtaining funding was not a requirement of the project, several teams submitted their ideas for crowd funding. Students were also asked to submit a10-page report as part of the course requirements.

Moving the project forward

Helping to bridge the gap between concept and start-up, Innovate Calgary brought members of their team, including commercialization expert and entrepreneur-in-residence Mark Williams, into the classroom to discuss trademarks, intellectual property and potential funding, and how to develop strong business projects and technology pitches.

As part of the partnership, Innovate Calgary also offered to provide free consultation for the top presentation teams from each of the six classes should they choose to move forward with their ideas.

Turning ideas into reality

After months of preparation, over 60 teams presented their technology business ideas to a panel of fourth-year business students and members of Innovate Calgary. The Aller-G-Friend app was one of six teams offered the opportunity to move their idea beyond the classroom with the help of Innovate Calgary.

“We were thrilled about the opportunity to work with Innovate Calgary and to take our project to the next level,” said Shianne Spiller, third year Haskayne student. “After having met with their team we are now in the process of creating a website, meeting with restaurants, developing a logo and making a new video to help us with funding.”

“Initially, I thought the class and the project were going to be like any other I’d completed in the past,” said Jessica Tran, fourth-year Haskayne student and Aller-G-Friend group member. “It turned out to be more than just a course. It expanded our minds and made us work hard because the project is turning out to be a real thing.”

The five other teams selected by the panel were:

Sollicito: A sophisticated, rechargeable, portable warming device to reheat your beverages anytime, anywhere.  

YYC carwash: An app to help Calgarians and tourists locate a carwash within the city, providing information about price, service type and average wait time.

Res carconnect: A fast, fun and friendly way to connect university students who are looking to carpool.

UC space: An app that allows students to be more efficient with their time and allows them to locate vacant workspace within the library and grants the ability to secure spaces such as workrooms.

Let me study: This app allows students to disable their phones for set periods of time providing them with distraction free studying time.