Gen Z imagines innovative finance tools using virtual reality and 5G
Three University of Waterloo student teams win top prizes in latest Innovation Challenge
Three University of Waterloo student teams win top prizes in latest Innovation ChallengeBy Naomi Grosman Velocity
Banking with a virtual reality headset may not be as far-fetched as you might think after students from the University of Waterloo’s startup incubator Velocity wrapped up a two-week-long “hackathon”, an innovation challenge aimed at augmenting the future of finance with VR and high-speed wireless technology.
In Velocity’s Innovation Challenge: Imagining the Future of Finance, 54 students from a cross-section of Waterloo faculties spanned across 12 teams to create dynamic VR solutions to promote healthy financial habits like budgeting, saving and investing. Waterloo and Velocity partnered with the Bank of Montreal (BMO), Unity and Rogers Communications for the hackathon program. Dimension X provided access to Bonfire, their no-code immersive experience platform to further assist students in designing solutions.
“With support from industry partners, the Innovation Challenge: Imagining the Future of Finance was a great opportunity for students to solve a real-world problem using exciting technology,” said John Dick, director of Velocity Campus. “The broad participation across campus showed that any student can be an innovator, regardless of their academic background.”
“BMO is proud to support the University of Waterloo’s Innovation Challenge,” said Andrea Casciato, head of Digital Investing, BMO InvestorLine. “As a company recognized as a top workplace for innovators by Fast Company, being part of this event represents an exciting opportunity for us to celebrate and challenge the tech leaders of tomorrow. Seeing how the students utilized virtual reality technology to help close the financial literacy gap has been an amazing experience.”
“Rogers is proud to partner with the University of Waterloo on the 5G VR Future of Finance Challenge, as part of our commitment to supporting the next-generation of developers to shape the future of 5G,” said Neel Dayal, senior director of Partnerships Innovation, Rogers Communications. “It was inspiring to see the students working together to ideate and innovate using VR over the Rogers 5G network. Learning about investing through gamification, and virtual environments used for banking services and assistance were just some of the applications being looked at to support healthy financial habits. This event is a great example of the University of Waterloo smart campus being leveraged as a testbed for experimentation to create new technologies enabled by 5G.”
The three winning teams were VOffice from the faculties of Engineering and Mathematics, Finquest from the faculties of Mathematics and Arts and Fintopia from the faculties of Environment, Engineering and Mathematics. Their solutions ranged from online virtual office spaces and social hubs in the metaverse to interactive, gamified financial literacy training. They will receive support from BMO, Rogers and Unity, with BMO providing them with new investment accounts and initial deposits. The top two teams received 1-year access to Unity Pro licenses, and the first-place team received Meta Quest 2 headsets.
The teams worked alongside mentors from BMO, Rogers and Unity in workshops to incorporate financial planning, advanced connectivity, VR design and development in their solutions. Teams were judged based on their user experience, unique approach to VR and financial literacy as well as how well their solution could be used in a real-world setting with 5G technology.
First place team members Henry Wang, Eric Zhang, Ryan Nguyen, Ian Korovinsky and Stephen Ni of VOffice, said the problem space gave the group a chance to combine technologies into one solution they wouldn’t have otherwise thought to.
“At first the problem space seemed narrow,” said Eric Zhang, undergraduate student in software engineering. “By using the technology and working with mentors we soon found out that it was a chance to be really creative and work on a unique solution.”
Second place team members of Finquest, Mahdi Raza Khunt, Silvia Ban, Ashin James, Zafar Erkinboev, Karmanbir Singh Batth, said with no prior experience using Unity VR and 5G connectivity their knowledge went from zero to 100.
“We had no connection to each other prior to the challenge and no software development experience but we powered through,” said James, undergraduate student in Faculty of Arts. “We just kept adapting our solution and what helped us was having a strong foundational idea and planning and delegating to get to the final product.”
The group said the atmosphere was less competitive than they expected. While all challenge participants worked hard, the friendly environment enabled the team to stay motivated, even when the technical aspects felt daunting.
“Overall, it was great having fun with the other teams,” James said.
Velocity accelerates entrepreneurs’ growth from ideas to early-stage startups and beyond. These founders have access to unmatched resources, collaboration space, funding and an expansive and experienced network made possible only by the University of Waterloo — Canada’s top university for founders. In the 15 years since its inception as a University of Waterloo residence, more than 400 Velocity companies have netted more than US$26 billion in value.
BMO Financial Group is the eighth largest bank in North America by assets, with total assets of $1.25 trillion as of July 31, 2023. Serving customers for 200 years and counting, BMO is a diverse team of highly engaged employees providing a broad range of personal and commercial banking, wealth management, global markets and investment banking products and services to over 13 million customers across Canada, the United States, and in select markets globally. Driven by a single purpose, to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life, BMO is committed to driving positive change in the world, and making progress for a thriving economy, sustainable future, and inclusive society.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.