Feb. 25, 2021

Telus Innovation Challenge nurtures students' bold ideas for the future

Young innovators from across Canada vie for up to $200,000 in prizes
Time lapse shot outside the University of Calgary.

They have made their pitches, gone through the workshops, and now they wait to hear if they have made the cut.

Seventy teams from across Canada put their best ideas forward in the first Telus Innovation Challenge, hoping to be chosen as the winner of the $100,000 prize package from Telus with up to $100,000 more coming from Alberta Innovates.

The partnership between Telus and the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary has not only provided a spotlight for the innovators, but also given them guidance along the way through workshops and mentoring.

The field has been whittled down to the top 20, with the top four teams moving on to the final round soon. The awards ceremony is March 5.

Rewarding engineering innovation

When the idea for the Telus Innovation Challenge was first being put together, a few key themes were central to its success.

“We wanted Canadian students with an interest in entrepreneurship and engineering innovation to come forward,” says Schulich School of Engineering Dean Bill Rosehart. “We also wanted to provide them with a real-world experience while rewarding those who really stepped up to the plate.”

That dream became a reality when Telus signed on, promising a $100,000 prize package including a seed fund to help students build their prototype and personalized mentorship to support the development of a plan.

Telus invests in future leaders

“Innovation is at the heart and soul of Telus, and our talented engineers, computer scientists and technologists — some of whom have graduated from the University of Calgary — play a pivotal role in our leadership,” says Ibrahim Gedeon, chief technology officer at Telus. “We are proud to partner with Alberta Innovates and the Schulich School of Engineering on this initiative and look forward to leveraging this event to find and invest in the future leaders of Canada’s digital economy.”

Additional support of up to $100,000 is also set to be provided by Alberta Innovates to help with commercialization, and could include mentorship, resources and infrastructure.

“Innovation at speed gives advantage to every sector of society, and turning strong, campus-led ideas into viable commercial solutions faster takes leadership,” says Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease. “That’s what the Telus Innovation Challenge with the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering represents. These are partners we know well and are pleased to support with the intent to accelerate outcomes from this national challenge.”

New approach for carbon dioxide capture

This one-of-a-kind, national event has seen a wide range of ideas brought to the table, from information technology and communication to energy and health.

Nedal Marei and his team from Schulich proposed a new approach for carbon dioxide capture and conversion using electrochemical conversion. He says people working in these fields dream of opportunities like this to turn academic research into real-world solutions.

“Win or lose, this challenge has made us realize that there is a very real market for this in Canada and around the world,” Marei says. “It’s also allowed us to create some foundational materials for the company that we can use going forward while connecting us with industry experts to get feedback for improvements.”

Concussion detector for helmets

Students also joined the challenge from a variety of schools across Canada. Eric Keilty from the University of Toronto is part of the team that pitched Spot Pods: a mechanical, lightweight, versatile and low-cost concussion detector for helmets.

“We brainstormed the seed to this idea around the end of last summer, but didn’t really think to act on it until this challenge came along,” Keilty says. “It’s been a fantastic experience so far.”

The teams are excited about finding out if they won the competition.

“It would mean that we have to put our heads down and get back to work to make this CO2 conversion unit,” Marei states. “It would also position us to participate in the growing clean-tech industry in Calgary and across Canada.”

“It would obviously be absolutely amazing to win as it would give Spot Pods the jumpstart it needs,” Keilty adds. “Winning would be almost like a form of recognition that our idea is seen as worthwhile by investors and industry experts alike.”