The Future of the Inventathon UBC Okanagan

My name is Hank. I’m the co-founder of Enactus UBC Okanagan. Today I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you regarding the Inventathon, if you have heard of this event or just interested in learning about entrepreneurship in Kelowna and UBC Okanagan.

The Inventathon was an unexpected result of what we first aimed to do in promoting Enactus UBC Okanagan earlier this year. To promote Enactus, our first idea was to set up a gather-around lunch for all clubs’ leaders and executives, sort of a campus summit so to speak. But we soon realized we could do more by expanding a lunch into a 24-hour-long hackathon that could generate more meaningful result than some empty talks at the summit. And after nights of planning and debates on the phone and at conference room, the first Inventathon UBC Okanagan was in motion. From the transformation of these ideas into the Inventathon to execution and securing sponsorship, somehow magically we managed to get it all done in three weeks (impressive, huh? lol).

The Inventathon was a great success with the size of turnout and proposed ideas. Within 24 hours, each participating team came up with either a conceptual prototype or a business model or an app that provides potentially impactful solutions to a specific social problem. The four teams that made to the final list had viabl proposal for food recycling, mental help, heat recycling, and counseling for university application. The Inventathon also received media coverage by Kelowna Now. In essence I believe the Inventathon helped many people to kickstart their projects, though it may be a bit exaggerated to claim it had generated direct impact in entrepreneurship.

The participating teams from the Inventathon and our executives

The 24-hour challenge is just a glimpse of what the daily life of real entrepreneurs look like.

Of course, no real startup was born in this sort of 24-hour-long, fun-oriented competition, and nor will they in the future. Launching a tech startup, especially the sort that is going to target on a non-existing, new market with the most current technology, requires months and years of hard work in preparation. From having a user-friendly front-end design to a reliable back-end database, entrepreneurs ought to know the technical details of web and app development. In addition, they must also come up with valid business plans and marketing strategies. Having launched a startup, I personally understand that for entrepreneurs more than 90% of the work are done by themselves in the dark, despite the romanticised image often portrayed by Hollywood movies. As such, the Inventathon only serves as an entry that introduces people the concept of entrepreneurship, and the 24-hour challenge is just a glimpse of what the daily life of real entrepreneurs look like.

Help founders. How?

So what on earth can we do to extend our help to founders in Okanagan Valley and British Columbia? At a minimum, the future Inventathons need to be accompanied by a set of workshops, that provide the business and technical trainings founders need, together forming a more robust startup ecosystem. Workshops will also help founders continue to build up projects that were inspired at the Inventathon. UBC Okanagan also has a set of programs to help founders - the Interprise program, currently available for third-year students, is designed to blend learning from multiple disciplines, tackling on founders’ needs for interdisciplinary thinking. A new branch of on-campus residential program called Integrated Learning Communities (ILC) offers like-minded people opportunities to live together in the same unit, which I think it’s ideal for founders who want to build something in their dorm with their roommates. To take their projects to the next level, founders can also choose to join programs or rent a desk at Accelerate Okanagan. But at the end of the day, it is founders whose personality, mentality, and determination in changing the world would lead to the ultimate success of their enterprise.

However, despite government’s best intention of positioning Kelowna as Canada’s Silicon Valley, there is still a gap between Kelowna and Vancouver, the latter of which is more equipped with resources, accelerating programs, networking opportunities, and conferences. For example, UBC’s on-campus incubator, UBC@Entrepreneur, has an office with regularly stationed staffs and in-residence mentors in Vancouver campus but not in Okanagan campus. In the future, I would like to see more attention is given to Kelowna both by UBC and the provincial government, since I believe founders here would do just as well given the same opportunities. To turn Okanagan Valley into the so-called Silicon Valley of Canada, there is still a long way to go.

If UBC envisions itself as the backbone of the growing tech economy in B.C., as Stanford University is to Silicon Valley, I believe there’s more to be done. Stanford has built a strong ecosystem for entrepreneurs through their StartX program, and most importantly, the mentality among its students to create something new. As a matter of fact, more than half of the well-known successful companies were founded by Stanford alumnis, including Snapchat, Netflix, Google, Yahoo, Paypal, Pied Piper**, and the list goes on. It will be nice to see UBC to take on a similar role too.

** Pied Piper is a fictional company from a HBO show, Silicon Valley. In the show, its founder is also a Stanford graduate.

How founders can help themselves

To those founders who were inspired and want to start learning to code right away, I present you the 100 days coding challenge by Free Code Camp, that will help you kickstart your coding career. Udacity and Udemy also have a range of free courses to teach you how to build a simple Andriod and a iOS app in two weeks. Though not everybody has to code, I believe learning a bit about coding will open many doors for your career. Happy Coding!

Here’s a curated list of useful links from the top incubators and programs that will teach you more about entrepreneurship:

Acknowledgement

Hosting Inventathon was tough. Besides not getting much sleep throughout that three weeks of preparation, I often joked with my friends whether doing Inventathon was worth of our time. After all, weeks of planning only translated into a few seconds of shining on the stage, and most of the time that stage belonged to contestants not us lol. But seeing everyone enjoying the event and feeling inspired was in itself the best satisfaction for us.

There are many people I’d like to thank here whom I didn’t have a chance to thank at the event. Drew Vincent, who’s been our mentor/cheerleader from the start, helped us connect with important people at MSA (Management Student Association) and faculty of UBC as well as Okanagan college, who then in turn introduced us to other resources. I’d also like to thank 15 judges who volunteered to offer their invaluable time in providing mentorship and judging and also tolerate our many flaws throughout the event. The school administration, including the Student Union (SUO) and Tuum Est Funding, made the event possible in 3 weeks by clearing the way for us in booking and financing. And most importantly, I’d like to thank my friends and colleagues at Enactus UBC Okanagan: Ashish, Chelsea, Eric, Kim, Nicole, Mohammad, Phoebe, and Puru; each of them plays an important role in facilitating this great contest, and they will continue the momentum with the next Inventathon in October.

p.s. The next Inventathon is scheduled on October 20th ~ 21st and its planning is now in motion. You can find out more about our previous Inventathon here.

p.s. If you are considering joining Enactus UBC Okanagan, please apply at our next hiring session in September.

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Enactus UBC Okanagan.