Launched in fall 2020, the Bicentennial Student Sustainability Challenge, impact200, aims to bring students and recent graduates together to form teams and submit proposals for transformative projects (Bright Spots) to enhance the sustainability of our campuses, our city, and the world.
New York City Networking Tour
At the awards ceremony in December 2021, five finalists of impact200 – Algo, Coolhealth, MentalLingual, Miniwaste, and Unearth – were invited to the United Nations in New York City, by Chantal Line Carpentier, McGill alum, impact200 judge, and Chief of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, New York office of the Secretary-General. Alongside fellow start-ups supported by the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and student innovators from Université de Sherbrooke, impact200 teams visited New York City to pitch their start-ups to experts in the fields of entrepreneurship and sustainability at the United Nations, and the Consulate General of Canada to New York.
Team Miniwaste, the winners of impact200, developed FoodMap, an information-sharing platform, connecting small food banks, food donors and people in need, with real-time geographical information on the availability, perishability, type, and quantity of donated food in the city of Montreal.
“We were able to articulate our project to people from different backgrounds and gain genuine feedback from different perspectives. This experience inspired us to explore new paths and new possibilities for our project,” says Xining Chen of team Miniwaste. “We also connected with others in the food waste space and we will keep in touch with them for any potential collaborations in the future.”
MentaLingual, second place in impact200, helps individuals gain actionable insights in self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, social skills, and motivation, using the latest research in behavioural science, through a gamified, scientifically backed EdTech tool.
“The networking tour had a great balance between pitches to investors and informational presentations to UN officials. The tour reinforced what our team already knew but could not experience during the pandemic, which is that there are several incredible start-ups coming out of McGill tackling current global issues with innovative solutions,” says Emily Chen. “Our team will benefit from having discussed the trajectories of each entrepreneurs’ respective start-up, their experience in the Dobson Cup, and how they built their business from an idea.”
unEarth, tied for third, is an interactive platform that teaches youth how processes within environmental systems are linked. Enriched with current scientific literature and animations, unEarth are available in English, French and Spanish.
“We had the chance to meet, discuss, and learn about entrepreneurship in a supportive international space. From the UN to the Canadian consulate, we really came to appreciate the strength of the McGill community,” says MK Hickox of unEarth. “Networking gave us the chance to learn more about the Canadian EdTech industry, and how we can further develop our company. We also made some contacts at the UN that will enable us to reach more students abroad.”
CoolHealth, tied for third, is developing a solar direct-drive vaccine cooler, to provide sustainable cooling in mobile clinics globally. The prototype will be implemented in Burkina Faso to serve internally displaced communities, especially women and children, in collaboration with local partners.
Addressing SDGs good health and well-being, affordable and clean energy, reduced inequalities, the CoolHealth team states their cooler will result in “60 per cent less vaccines lost to poor refrigeration, at least 50 vaccinations administered per day, and [the cooler] will be cleaner and more affordable than current devices.”
Algo, public vote’s winner, aims to remove algal blooms by collecting the excess algae and converting it into biomass. Once recovered, this biomass can be used as a sustainable source of energy such as biofuel or biogas, or it can be used as fertilizer.
“Since we’re a newer start-up, opportunities such as this networking tour have taught us a lot about the value of building connections with others. As our circle of peers and acquaintances expands, so does the scope of our knowledge, as well as the range of resources that are available to us,” says Kimia Shafighi, CEO and President of Algo. “We hope that people will be intrigued by the novelty and the innovation of our start-up and see the potential in its ability to clean waters and provide algae-derived products.”
From the 44 initial proposals entered in fall 2020, 22 semi-finalists were selected in January 2021. In March 2021, teams pitched their ideas via video conference to a judging panel consisting of four of McGill’s emeriti professors. In addition to their presentations, each team submitted a written proposal, a 60-second video pitch, and a digital poster. Each of the finalist teams received up to $5,000 and support from expert mentors to develop their projects over the summer, which address one or more of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The teams pitched their final proofs-of-concept to a panel of judges on November 9th and 10th. Winners were announced on December 2, 2021, at the impact200 Awards Ceremony.
impact200 Semi-Finalist Teams
200 Urban Garden
Did you know that Montreal currently provides only 35% of the WHO’s recommended greenspace per person? 200 Urban Garden aims to do something about that: The team’s goal is to establish 200 new gardens in Montreal by turning underutilized pockets of land into lively green spaces with themed gardens to match the spirit of the local community. Read more | Watch video
McGill Engineers in Action
For people around the world, a river can mean the difference between receiving an education, getting medical attention, and selling goods – or not. Every year, this team will design a footbridge for rural communities in Bolivia or Eswatini to help connect them to essential resources such as schools, markets and clinics. Then, every summer, a team of students will live and work alongside the community to construct the footbridge. Watch video
McGill Food Analytics Centre
There are over 150 food-based organizations in Montreal, and over 10,000 volunteers. But there is a supply and demand mismatch for the volunteers in the system. The McGill Food Analytics Centre has created a scheduling application designed specifically for volunteers at food-based organizations. Watch video
McGill Mycelium Project
The McGill Mycelium Project strives to combat food insecurity and up-cycle cardboard waste through urban mushroom farming. Our farm, located on McGill University’s downtown campus, grows nutritious, food-grade oyster mushrooms with McGill’s cardboard waste and provides these mushrooms to a local food drive organization, Santropol Roulant. By selling a small portion of these oyster mushrooms to the McGill’s cafeterias, the farm will be financially self-sufficient. We believe this model of urban farming can be implemented in all urban settings, promoting local circular economies around the globe. Read more | Watch video
Have you ever thought about how easy it is to access clean water with the turn of a faucet? 29% of the world’s population still lacks this basic service. In many communities, women and children make long journeys to bring home small amounts of dirty water, contributing to 485,000 diarrheal deaths yearly. The Solar-A team aims to tackle this problem with a backpack capable of purifying contaminated water using solar and biomechanical energy. Read more | Watch video
The challenge, impact200, is organized by the Bicentennial Office, in collaboration with the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the McGill Office of Sustainability (MOOS), the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI), a Student Advisory Group, and representatives of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Teams competing in the final round of impact200 received financial support from the University’s flagship Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), in hopes of promoting equity, accessibility, and interdisciplinarity throughout the Challenge. This support minimized the financial barriers that may have hindered students and young alumni from participating.
The SPF is the largest fund of its kind in Canada, valued at $1 million annually, and has the mandate to build a culture of sustainability on McGill campuses through the development and seed-funding of interdisciplinary projects. It creates opportunities for the McGill community to actively engage in sustainability initiatives on campus. Since 2010, the SPF has allocated more than $10.2 million to over 275 sustainability projects on McGill’s campuses.
The impact200 initiative would also not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Arts.