Another perfect summer for dipping your feet into the lakes of Quebec has officially come to a close. Time to tuck away your paddle boards, kayaks, and bathing suits. Did you get to enjoy a lake this summer? Now more than ever, protecting our bodies of water should be at the top of our collective priorities, which just so happens to be the mission of the AquaHacking Challenge: harnessing the power of tech to provide solutions for the greatest water-related challenges of our times.
Launched in 2015, the AquaHacking Challenge has partnered with RBC since 2017 through the institution’s Tech For Nature program, which is all about leveraging ideas, technology, and partnerships to solve today’s most pressing environmental issues. The challenge comes in the form of a contest that is open to students and young professionals ages 18-35 who want to learn about entrepreneurship and create a tech solution that has a tangible, positive impact on water. The various themes always relate to a particular watershed and are chosen after talks with municipalities and NPOs regarding their most immediate needs.
Participants are offered mentorship and conferences opportunities that align with their projects. Over the course of six years, more than one thousand students have taken part in the challenge, leading to the creation of 27 SMEs that are still in operation today.
The impacts of climate change, drought, flooding, and groundwater contamination are all tied into the issues surrounding freshwater. Every year, municipalities must juggle these challenges and make critical decisions that directly impact the health and well-being of their residents. When technology is used for the greater environmental good, it can accelerate solutions and contribute to prevention, which translates into time and money saved.
The challengers—scientists, mainly—acquire a taste for entrepreneurship and watch their SMEs grow after they take part in the challenge. Mélissa Dick, program manager for AquaHacking Alumni, feels a deep sense of pride when she sees one of the challenge’s winning companies advertise positions a few years on. The team is always prepared to offer alumni support, even years after getting their grant. AquaHacking is constantly on the lookout for how each SME has contributed to freshwater health and encourages them—no matter how much capital they’re working with—to keep their eyes on the prize of protecting our watersheds.
So who are these AquaHacking alumni? Profiles of a few winners who are still going strong:
Cann Forecast won the challenge back in 2017. The company taps into the power of artificial intelligence to provide two innovative solutions.
Inteliswim is a solution designed to help municipalities manage bodies of water more efficiently. After heavy rainfall, sometimes too much E. coli can enter our waterways, posing a health risk to swimmers. After being trained with historical rainfall and wastewater discharge data, Inteliswim can predict water quality in real time and thereby warn municipalities when beaches and lakes are best avoided for swimming. This AI-based solution produces results that are much faster and 90% more reliable than traditional sampling methods, which require between 24 and 48 hours to spit out the data.
On its end, InteliPipes forecasts which city pipes are the most likely to burst, meaning they can prevent damage before it even happens. This algorithm is ten times more accurate than age-based models and it empowers cities to make strategic decisions around improving their waterworks.
2018’s winner, Geosapiens provides a digital solution that prevents flooding. Feeding topographical and weather data into E-NUNDATION, the web platform can produce predictive, real-time flood mapping. The tool can assess how floods will affect populations, buildings, and critical infrastructure.
With E-NUNDATION, you can know if a flood is coming three days ahead of time and it is customizable to the needs and particularities of each municipality it serves. Geosapiens has even landed a contract in Tunisia, making it the first AquaHacking SME to go global.
Ozero Solutions is based in Sherbrooke and it took first place at the 2020 AquaHacking Challenge held in British Columbia under the theme of invasive aquatic species. Ozero was already working hard on a solution at the time, and it was the challenge that helped them get up and running.
Zebra mussels are a blight on the lakes of Quebec and pose a real threat to local ecosystems. Lots of vacationers don’t know that they need to clean their equipment before hopping from one body of water to the next. Yes, even paddle boarders need to wash up to avoid cross contamination.
Ozero Solutions has devised a boat cleaning system that not only cleans the vessel’s exterior, but also the pipework, which traditional cleaners tend to neglect. Ozero decontaminated 500 vessels last year in partnership with Magog’s city government, in addition to raising awareness among boat owners, who don’t always come lake contamination savvy.
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