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Chinook City puts a twist on Calgary winter city event strategy to win hackathon

The teams had to create a project that would drive Calgary's winter city strategy forward.

Common ground and compromises.

That’s the way one group member described how they overcame adversity to win first place in the YYCHacks hackathon held at the Platform Calgary Innovation Centre over the weekend.

The hackathon task was to deliver a project that could help catapult Calgary’s winter city identity forward. It was done in conjunction with the Chinook Blast winter festival.

Team member Dele Oyelese of the Chinook City team said by the end of the second day they were disheartened. They didn’t yet know exactly what they were going to do.

“We reflected on why we came out to the hackathon in the first place,” Oyelese said.

“And I think that had a big role in how we presented ourselves today because everybody’s morale was a lot higher when we realized the point wasn’t to win, but just sort of create something and see what we could do.”

The event saw 15 teams make their four-minute pitch to judges Derek Armstrong from PrairiesCan Economic Development, Sabrina Grover and Ward 7 city councillor, Terry Wong. 

Many of the projects focused on the need to aggregate winter event content and deliver it in an easy-to-use way. Several provided options for itinerary organization and others still added a social media component to try to create buzz around local activities.

The Chinook City entry put a different spin on things. Activities were a part of their product, but it was how their take on attracting others that set it apart.

They had a two-pronged, original approach: First, cater to business tourists. These are people who need things to do while they’re here for work.  Then, they’re like a virus as they take their great experiences back home and tell others or perhaps plan a future trip to Calgary.

The other element was in redefining Calgary’s climate. To many, Canada equals cold, snow, gray – but the team noted that Calgary’s one of the sunniest places in North America. It often benefits from the warmth of Chinooks – hence the product name.

Implementation, reaching different demographics

Armstrong said the judges really focused on what could be implemented and if it was something they could see themselves using.

“We wanted to see a large amount of people wanting to use this solution,” he said.

Grover said they were thrilled with the entries at this year’s hackathon. Particularly how it could be used by folks in demographics on being reach – like non-English-speaking visitors.

“There was a lot of really, really interesting submissions and a lot of people who I think thought deeply about the problem and like how to actually activate Calgarians

For his part, Wong said there was a lot of ingenuity and innovation in the ideas. At least two ideas tried a rewards-based spin on the city’s snow angel program. They figured accessibility improvements would lead to more Calgarians visiting local events.

“Most importantly, what we were looking for is implementation – how we can actually carry this out, both in terms of people using it as well as people developing it, and ultimately, the people that are going to benefit from it, which is obviously our local economy,” he said.

Armstrong said it was a difficult decision. Eight or nine of the teams could have placed in the top three, he said.

“This is exactly what the city needs. It needs young talent that are passionate about the city and passionate about solving some problems in this city,” he said.

Successful local tech event

Chaz Smith from Be The Change YYC (left) accepts a cheque from YYCHacks founder and Pixeltree CEO Serene Yew. The costs of the event were fully covered with sponsorship, and that allowed cash from ticket sales to go to the local social outreach organization. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

YYCHacks founder and Pixeltree CEO Serene Yew said that clearly the teams had a blast coming up with the ideas – and of course the meme-filled presentations.

“I am ecstatic,” Yew said on the success of this year’s event. She said the projects were creative – many of the ideas she didn’t even see coming.

“I think they had a lot of fun with it.”

The hackathon wasn’t without some team hiccups – including the eventual winners. Some teams dreamed too big – especially for the weekend event, Yew said.  Every team was able to deliver something at that end.

The Chinook City team, who also took home the heart award for sticking it out when things looked bleak, initially couldn’t find a consensus.  That’s what ultimately galvanized their effort.

“We found common ground for compromises,” said Oyelese.

“A big thing that I saw, is a lot of groups would get hung up on little things. We reflected on why we were here and that helped us realize that it wasn’t about just that arguing about one thing and being able to come together collaboratively.”

The second-place winner was the YYC Winter team, with a nicely styled, simple and effective web-based tool to plan your winter outings locally.  The third-place team was Winter-Go, which created a plan with recommendations based on the weather outside.  

For more information on the hackathon, visit the YYCHacks website.