According to Stephanie Bagnell, part of the brains-trust behind the Project and Pitch Fair, the event was a huge success. “We had almost double the number of projects pitching their ideas from last year, with 17 entries coming from right across the Faculty,” she says.
Talking to students, you often find the reason they came to university is not to work on complex calculus, but to work on practical projects, to form deep friendships through shared goals, to do social good and realise their creative ambitions.
Melinda Wimborne, Fabrication Manager, Michael Crouch Innovation Centre
Her sentiments are echoed by Sid Prasad, Vice President of Careers at EngSoc, who also helped organise the event. “Over 150 students, faculty and industry partners attended the event which included networking opportunities and showcased some of UNSW’s most successful Student-Led Projects,” he says. “Many of the ideas pitched had the potential to be turned into official Student-Led Projects and start-ups at UNSW.”
As Prasad suggests, the aim of the Project and Pitch Fair is to provide students with a platform to pitch their Student-Led Project or start-up ideas to win seed funding and additional support for their project. Groups had just two minutes to give a presentation followed by a one-minute Q&A session and pitches ranged from start-up ventures, to international competition opportunities, to humanitarian initiatives.
The top prize of $1,500 was awarded to Syzygy, for their pitch on smart windscreens that use computer vision and LCD technology to make driving safer and more comfortable. Team Leader Srivaths Ramkumar says the atmosphere of all the teams and ideas mingling together was incredible. “UNSW is now helping us develop our prototype windscreens. It is so reassuring to have that kind of support,” he says.
The Most Innovative prize of $600 went to GreenSat – a project designed to develop the methods and technologies required to grow food and other supplies, such as medicine, in space. Project Lead Benjamin Hans Koschnick says winning the award breathed new life into the whole project team. “It affirms everything we have done so far and all the hard work we have put in. It means the world to us,” he says.
Alexis Schteinman is the team leader for Urinalyser, which won the People’s Choice award and $400 in funding to develop their smartphone-controlled spectrometer, with applied capabilities in diagnosing diseases in urine samples with the assistance of an app. “There were some incredible projects and ideas pitched at the event which made winning that much more special,” he says.
Judges included Richard Hopkins, UNSW Engineering Professor of Practice; Ang Liu, Senior Lecturer at Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering; Sandra Harrison, Student Opportunities Manager and Buddhi Ranasinghe, Founding President of Student-Led Project Impact Engineers who won the inaugural Project and Pitch Fair in 2017.
“Our job was to judge the pitches on creativity, innovation, originality, whether it is realistic and achievable, and whether the presentations were well executed,” says Ranasignhe, who explains that winning the competition last year was a major boost for Impact Engineers.
“The $250 seed funding we won last year resulted in the completion of a $20,000 humanitarian water initiative in my home country of Sri Lanka,” he says. “I’d highly recommend any student with a great idea to start preparing their pitch for next year. You never know where it might take you.”
UNSW Engineering has a long and proud history of supporting Student-Led Projects. Sunswift, for example, has been running for over 20 years and has broken a number of world records. Bagnell, who is a Student-Led Projects Officer in the Faculty of Engineering explains that although this support in the past has been largely ad hoc, it is now much more organised and formal.
“The Faculty recognises the importance of Student-Led Projects and how they are a vital component of the students’ experience. They help our students push the boundaries of what is possible and their achievements represent the future of engineering in Australia and innovation on an international stage,” she says. “It is because of this recognition, that we have a goal to increase the Student-Led Projects we support from 14 to 40 by 2020.”
The MCIC, which was established on campus in 2015, plays a large role in supporting Student-Led Projects to achieve their aims says Melinda Wimborne, Fabrication Manager at MCIC whose role is to help students “realise physical builds” of their ideas.
“MCIC has a mandate to support entrepreneurship within the university and has been designed to achieve this with a network of makerspaces, events and facilities that students are free to come to and use,” she says.
“Talking to students, you often find the reason they came to university is not to work on complex calculus, but to work on practical projects, to form deep friendships through shared goals, to do social good and realise their creative ambitions,” she says.
“I’m not saying complex calculus is not important, but I am saying giving students opportunities to explore the knowledge they’re gaining in the classroom through things like Student-Led Projects is also vital. That’s why we’re piloting the new Endeavours Program.”
Wimborne explains that the Endeavours Program is like a “landing strip” for students who want to get involved in extracurricular activities. “It has been designed to ‘funnel’ student ideas and projects to the appropriate UNSW resources and support programs,” she says. “This includes refining their business case, developing a pitch and learning how to convey themselves with confidence and professionalism.”
Bagnell is very excited about this new offering and says that all students who are interested in learning more about creating or joining a Student-Led Project are welcome to attend the free event. “As the Endeavours Program grows we will look at engaging more student projects that are scalable and bring sustainable opportunities to the students here at UNSW,” she says.
The Project and Pitch Fair would not have been possible without the help from the Event Management Team: Sid Prasad and Viashu Sundaramurthy from EngSoc, Robin Au from MCIC, and Stephanie Bagnell and Madden Burns from the Student Opportunities team in the Faculty of Engineering.
The Faculty of Engineering and the MCIC encourages all students at UNSW with a new innovative project idea to take advantage of all workshop opportunities and events throughout the 2018 semesters. For more information on how to get involved contact:
Stephanie Bagnell, Student-Led Projects Officer
UNSW Faculty of Engineering
Robin Au, MCIC Officer
Michael Crouch Innovation Centre