RRC Polytech team finishes first in Sprint to Innovate challenge

May 5, 2022

RRC Polytech proudly owned the podium at the Sprint to Innovate Challenge last month, as teams representing the College won three of four available cash prizes.

Six Business Technology Management students teamed up as the North Latin Friends and outraced their peers to the finish line in the biannual 48-hour student innovation challenge, presented by the City of Winnipeg and held in cooperation with industry partners, the University of Manitoba and Tech Manitoba.

“Sprint to Innovate is a fun event that cultivates relationships between students and allows them to display technical and creative skills to potential employers,” says Dr. Jonathan Ziprick, Applied Computer Education instructor at RRC Polytech. “It’s a great opportunity for students to learn and practice the innovation process that is used for solving problems in industry.”

In Sprint to Innovate, industry partners provide real businesses challenges for student teams, who must choose an issue to tackle, work with a mentor to develop innovative business solutions over the course of a weekend, and then pitch their ideas to overcome the challenge to a panel of judges.

The competition requires teamwork, creativity and communication, and encourages participants to push the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

“The breadth of ideas, pragmatic approaches and workable solutions that students come up with in such a short period of time is impressive,” says Tyler Gooch, Director of Innovation & Technology for the City of Winnipeg. “As judges, it was difficult to select a winner because all the groups presented well-reasoned conclusions. In the end, we decided to reward a team that attacked their problem from a unique angle, forgoing obvious technology-based solutions to focus on a social innovation.”

With members hailing from Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador, a cultural connection brought the North Latin Friends together as a team, and their shared experiences as new citizens inspired their response to the challenge — put forth by the City of Winnipeg — of how to encourage engagement and increase voter participation for the 2022 municipal election.

While the very nature of the competition — combined with their skills and training in IT and engineering — had them considering the idea of creating a new app for smart phones, their systematic approach, research and discussions about their own reasons for being apprehensive about voting steered them toward a simple, yet effective solution.

“The answer was us!” says team member Dulce Medrano. “Hire newcomers who have no bias or political connection as voting ambassadors to reach out, educate, encourage and engage the public to vote.”

Medrano and her teammates — Juan Flores, Gustavo Lara, Victoria Llumiquinga, Jose Loja and Rodrigo Sanchez — worked tirelessly for the next 48 hours to mould their innovative idea into a real-world program.

Their seven-minute virtual presentation, entitled “PegVote 2022: It Takes a City to Build a City,” identifies categories of non-voters, offers strategies to connect with them, and addresses minimizing voting barriers like motivation, knowledge and time.

Simultaneously, the ambassadors get the opportunity to meet their neighbours, understand the needs and issues in their communities, and learn how and why to vote when they become eligible. The layers of societal benefits in their proposal impressed the judges, who awarded them the $6,000 top prize.

“There was a lot of screaming and singing and pride from the Latino community on campus and some messages from instructors that made us feel super proud,” says Medrano. “Our victory proves that diversity drives innovation. It’s not always about technology; it’s about being disruptive to accepted practices, and changing them for the better.”

Two other RRC Polytech teams, Task Force and The Study Force, finished in the money for their solutions to the College’s cyber-security challenge, while CMurgh from the University of Manitoba nabbed third place for its members response to the student well-being challenge.

As part of the weekend festivities, student groups also attended various innovation workshop sessions on mind mapping, the design sprint and requirement-gathering skills. RRC Polytech graduate Sean Rayland, from Red Rebel Armour, inspired students with a keynote address on entrepreneurial spirit.

ACE Project Space entrepreneur-in-residence Matt Schaubroeck, from ioAirFlow, advised teams on making final pitch presentations that resonate. Innovation experts Al McLeod and Leanne Jones developed a resource kit and provided innovation training to help keep students and mentors on track.

Wendy Yan of Futurpreneur, Brent Wennekes from Protein Industries, and Lawrence Lazarko, formerly of Manitoba Public Insurance (retired), joined Tyler Gooch as judges.

Title sponsor the City of Winnipeg and event sponsors Payworks, InVision Edge, CIPS Manitoba, BHER, Riipen, Western Financial Group, the University of Manitoba – Faculty of Science, and RRC Polytech provided the $12,000 in total prize money.

The next Sprint to Innovate Challenge is scheduled for the fall.