Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Road North
Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G6
As the world continues to navigate the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic, Waterloo’s entrepreneurial community has banded together to support students through the Pandemic Challenge. Hosted by Concept by Velocity, the Problem Lab, GreenHouse, Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement, Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, and UW Library, the Pandemic Challenge for Spring 2020 is a space for students to explore problems generated by this global health crisis.
Similar to Concept’s 5K Pitch Competition, students involved in the Pandemic Challenge will receive support and coaching from experts in Waterloo’s innovation ecosystem and have a chance to pitch their solution for a cash prize. Where the Pandemic Challenge differs from Concept’s regular programming is it’s accessibility to students in early ideation stages of addressing problems who may be new to entrepreneurship. Their solutions may be tech-based, or provide the solution to a physical problem, but the Challenge also welcomes innovations in public policy. As a campus-wide collaboration, the Challenge is able to reach a wider range of students – some may come from social innovation spaces, environmentally focused start-ups, or more developed business ventures. The campus partners are supporting the Challenge in various ways, from promotion to workshops to coaching.
Paul Heidebrecht, Director of the Centre for Peace Advancement, is a guest coach for the Challenge, available for one-on-one sessions with students as they workshop their ideas. “Waterloo students are eager to respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Paul, “and I’m looking forward to collaborating with partners in Waterloo’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to support them.” Paul is one of three coaches, working alongside Kevin Li of the Problem Lab and Brendan Wylie-Toal of GreenHouse, to provide a diverse range of perspectives.
The Pandemic Challenge aims to make an impact in the lives of both students and those their ventures might help. As many students unexpectedly find themselves without co-op jobs, internships, or completing a Spring semester away from Waterloo, the Pandemic Challenge offers a constructive space for students to channel their frustration into problem solving. Waterloo Region’s reputation for being an innovation hub as well as the notable success of the Waterloo Innovation Ecosystem during this pandemic only encourages students that they absolutely can make a difference.
While the Challenge addresses current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, Heidebrecht believes it is, “a great example of how the innovative spirit of our University is increasingly being focused on making a positive social impact.” 130 change-makers have signed up for the Challenge, joining from all six faculties with every year and level of study represented from first year undergraduates to PhD students. The Pandemic Challenge is ready to jumpstart these students with fresh ideas, a robust support system, and top-notch training into a world that could surely use some solutions.