Event brings student solutions to industry problems

By Adela Talbot
March 06, 2014

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For dozens of Western students, Reading Week was non-existent.

In place of warm getaways and breaks from books, more than 50 Science students participated in the second annual Industry Problem Solving Week (IPSW), an event which united the university, city and industry in an attempt to solve challenges facing local organizations and businesses.

“I think what the students get out of this is an opportunity to work on real-world problems, with real data, and have an experience in an industry,” said Mat Daley, a specialist in corporate investments and partnerships with the City of London.

“The industry folks get to bring a challenge, which they have in their current work, and they get to connect with some of the youngest and brightest minds that are in this city. And from the city’s perspective, we are always interested in retaining our youngest and brightest minds, so we can hope to achieve that through (working) with industry partners.”

IPSW grew from one workshop to three in the past year, with students being assigned challenges to tackle from industry leaders in categories including data analytics, environment and sustainability and materials. This year, eight local oganizations – among them London Hydro, Labatt Brewing Company and ReThink London – presented 11 challenges to students to solve in a matter of days.

At the close of IPSW, students, having worked with a mentor faculty member, presented their solutions to industry partners and a winner was chosen in each workshop based on the presentation, applicability and originality of the solution offered. It is up to the organizations to move forward with the solutions.

“It’s a great experience. As an academic student (in math), there isn’t a lot of teamwork involved. Working with the group and seeing different ideas from people in different disciplines, is great,” said Shawn Hanson, a third-year student who participated this year.

“You make connections with people and down the road, you might be stuck with something, and you might need some input from other people. There’s a better chance something will come of a problem if there’s more people working together in a room.”

Hanson’s team was assigned a problem from London Hydro, and won in the Environment and Sustainability workshop.

Hydro companies are slowly losing money, as some customers are moving toward renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, there is nevertheless a cost and a demand for the companies to deliver hydro to all customer homes, Hanson explained. His group was tasked with finding a way for the companies to continue seeing profit, even if demand or consumption decreases from time to time.

The group came up with a solution that involved a fixed charge for provision of hydro to customers’ homes.

Industry partners who participated during the week are walking away with great benefits, added Jeff Eaves, business development and marketing manager at Tillson Brands, a company that manufactures de-icers.

“We came in first with more of a marketing problem – how do we take our product and bring it to market? But what the students delved into, as one of the first steps, which I was missing, was being able to support all my claims (of our product’s benefits) with data. So they realized it would be better for them to focus on how I could do more testing, for less money,” he said.

His student group figured out a way for him to use and refurbish equipment he already has for testing purposes and Eaves noted he plans to move forward with their solution to cut costs and, eventually, increase revenue.

“At (IPSW), you’re meeting with industry partners, solving problems that are less abstract, less academic and are really borne out of industry work,” said Andrew Kope, a student organizer who participated last year before completing his MSc.

“You also have the experience of networking with other students – that was the best thing I got out of it, being able to meet people you don’t usually get to talk to very much, and building connections with students, faculty, industry, too.”

There have been a few success stories in which companies have moved forward with the solutions presented.

“We hope to have more students and more industry partners each year,” Kope said.























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