Can fresh eyes turn our freshwater lake around?
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is banking on that happening with its tech-driven 2020 Lake Winnipeg AquaHacking Challenge.
It’s also hoping the ideas coming out of this 8-month long competition could one day be exported to countries around the world facing similar water problems.
In January, more than 100 students, scientists, researchers, developers, engineers and entrepreneurs from across the country came together to find new ways to address critical issues plaguing the world’s 11th largest freshwater lake. Lake Winnipeg’s basin crosses four Canadian provinces and four U.S. states and is home to 7 million people.
For six months, 20 teams got support from experts and mentors to develop their business ideas. By June, only five startups were chosen to continue in the competition. They will pitch their solutions to some savvy and well-connected judges including Bold Commerce’s Co-Founder & V.P. of Growth, Jay Myers; Kanata Earth’s CEO, Blaine Favel; CTO and co-founder of Sightline INnovation, Mark Alexiuk; Stantec’s Technical Leader for Hydrological Sciences, Dave Morgan and Erin Ussery, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
You can learn more about these young innovators and their inspiring ideas below:
Julien Koga, student, University of Manitoba (U of M), Biology, Winnipeg, MB
Alec Massé, student, U of M, Commerce, Winnipeg, MB
Problem: Nutrient overload in watersheds
Solution: Cattail plants into packaging
Typha Co. is using the fibers extracted from cattail plants to develop packaging products that will compete economically with plastic options while maintaining a high standard of environmental responsibility. Cattail plants are known to be significant contributors to eutrophication, which is the overabundance of phosphorous and other nutrients in water that can hinder oxygen and kill off plant and animal life.
“You just can’t sit back and let climate change happen and let our environment disintegrate. It’s time to step in.” - Julian Koga, Typha Co.
Ivo Arrey, young professional, Hydroinformatics, St. John's, NL
Sam Swanson, young professional, Marketing & Communications, Winnipeg, MB
Kyle Vouriot, Red River College, Web App/Software Development, Winnipeg MB
Anna Leenay, Jacobs Engineering, Water Engineering, Etobicoke, ONT
Abdul-Latif Alhassan, Memorial University, Environmental Policy, Corner Brook, NL
Problem: Microplastics in water
Solution: Algorithm/Application to analyze microplastics
AbbaTek is developing a solution for reducing uncertainty in microplastics research. “Compound Connect” is an algorithm and all-in-one application to analyze and store data on microplastics.
“The process for determining what types of plastic are in the water is a really labourious process. It takes a lot of time. We really wanted to refine the product to help researchers identify what kind of microplastics are in our water.” - Sam Swanson, AbbaTek
LasIR Nutrient Technology
Megan Smith, student, U of M, Science, Winnipeg, MB
Bentley Turner, student, U of M, Science, Winnipeg, MB
Problem: Chemicals & waste in soil
Solution: Less expensive on-site tool for soil analysis
LasIR Nutrient Technology created an agronomic decision-making tool for on-site soil analysis. The tool uses ATR infrared spectroscopy techniques and takes multiple soil samples simultaneously without the use of added reagents, thus minimizing the cost per sample.
“We saw there was a window to develop something in this area and we knew it would impact a wide range of people, so we went for it.” - Megan Smith, LasIR Nutrient Technology
Waseem Jawad, student, Queen’s University, Innovation, Toronto, ON
Michael Beck, student, U of M, Science & Math, Winnipeg, MB
Zacharie Gousseau, student, U of M, Civil Engineering, Winnipeg, MB
Quinn Desrochers, student, U of M, Engineering, Winnipeg, MB
Ryan Tran, student, U of M, Computer Engineering, Winnipeg, MB
Solution: Portable device to classify and quantify microplastics in water
Particuleye is developing a portable automated detection device which uses machine learning to visually capture, classify and quantify microplastics that flow through water. Right now, it is time consuming to test for them, so the device could have potential applications in commercial and academic settings.
“We’re trying to speed up this process and basically save money and a lot of time.” - Quinn Desrochers
Noor Tajik, student, U of Regina (U of R), Environmental Engineering, Regina, SK
Arslan Azeem, student, U of R, Social Design & Environmentalism, Regina, SK
Tinsae Alemu, Student, U of R, Environmental Engineering, Regina, SK
Problem: Safe drinking water
Solution: Cost-effective on-site device to assess water quality
Water Secure is creating a series of localized testing hubs that can affordably track water quality. It can upload data to a live water map that can be used to raise public awareness and assist governments to identify and invest in infrastructure gaps while increasing water security and the health of populations in remote communities.
“We found discrepancies in remote testing sites in the northern parts of the Lake Winnipeg watershed...they were sending out their samples via air or mail. We found this highly inefficient as samples are lost and there is a high cost associated with this...we’re actually finding instrumentation that can be deployed in these remote areas and testing can be done on site.” - Noor Tajik, Water Secure
Deputy-Director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Pauline Gerrard, says she was struck by the calibre of proposed projects.
“We have been continually impressed and inspired by this talented group of young innovators and can’t wait to see the lasting impacts their solutions will have on fresh water. This has proven that putting new minds and new technologies to work on old problems is a powerful formula for innovation.”
Equally impressed is Economic Development Winnipeg’s CEO & President, Dayna Spiring, who sees an opportunity to create a pipeline for new innovation and economic growth.
“We’ve seen how innovative thinking and technology can disrupt traditional business models. We are working with governments at all levels and the private sector to encourage this kind of disruptive thinking because we know it can create the new businesses of tomorrow. The success of those new businesses will spur new investments and can increase the quality of life for our entire community.”
Each team will make their final pitches to judges and have a chance at winning anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000 to further pursue the development of their ideas.
The winner will be announced on October 20 and you can watch it live here.