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    Innovating for the community

    Queen’s students found success in the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge by pitching a new idea for reducing food insecurity in Kingston.

    The student team behind Food4All with Mayor Bryan Paterson at the Mayor's Innovation Challenge.
    Hashir Sami, Ryan Khuu, Mayor Bryan Paterson, and Yash Shrestha, after Food4All was named the winner of the Public Innovation Stream Award at the Mayor's Innovation Challenge. (City of Kingston)

    A team of Queen’s students is one of the winners of the sixth annual Mayor’s Innovation Challenge. Hosted by the City of Kingston, the challenge brings together teams of students from the city’s post-secondary education institutions for a pitch competition focusing on new approaches to community issues.  

    This year’s successful Queen’s team won the Public Sector Innovation Stream award for creating Food4All, a web application designed to reduce food insecurity and food waste in Kingston. As recipients of the award, the Food4All team will be placed in four-month paid internships with a municipal department in the City of Kingston, where they will build valuable skills, learn about working in government, and be mentored by city staff.

    “We started Food4All to give back to the city and harness the community spirit that we see everywhere in Kingston,” says Hashir Sami, co-founder of Food4All and a second-year computing student at Queen’s. “Kingston is a tight-knit community where people really want to help each other, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out how to make donations in the most effective way. Our app will solve the logistical problems of food donation and provide food-insecure individuals access to a variety of foods. We are honored to have been chosen for this award and are excited for the opportunity to work with the City of Kingston.”

    Sami co-founded Food4All with fellow Queen’s student Yash Shrestha, second-year health sciences, and Ryan Khuu, a second-year computer engineering student at Toronto Metropolitan University. The three students originally created the app in January for QHacks, an event held at Queen’s in which student teams design a digital product from scratch in 36 hours. At QHacks, they were awarded with direct entry into the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge.

    They chose to focus on this project because they wanted to find solutions to food insecurity, which affects millions of people in Canada. Food4All connects local businesses and local non-profit organizations with volunteers who can deliver donations. Using the app, restaurants and other businesses can post their unused food items and non-profits can claim them. Volunteers can then use the app to schedule pick-up and drop-off times, so they can efficiently move the donated items from the businesses to the charities, helping to eliminate food waste and reduce food insecurity at the same time.

    Partnering with the city to promote local innovation

    There was also a Queen’s presence at the event beyond the student teams. The Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC) is a partner of the challenge and admit the winners of the Smart Kingston Stream into their QYourVenture program, which guides participants through the phases of entrepreneurship. Smith School of Business Dean Wanda Costen and DDQIC Academic Director Jim McLellan were also on hand to serve as judges of the competition.

    “The Food4All team made a strong impression on the judges for its novel approach to the problems of food insecurity and food waste,” says McLellan. “The Mayor’s Innovation Challenge really showcases the creativity and community spirit of Queen’s students as well as students from Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College. It’s inspiring to see the ingenuity they bring to tackling real world challenges and their strength of interest in the community. DDQIC is excited to be a partner of the event and to work with Strive Storage, this year’s winners of the Smart Kingston Stream award.”

    Kingston post-secondary students pitch new solutions

    Eight teams in total competed in the challenge, three from Queen’s. In addition to Food4All, the Queen’s teams were Sense Kingston and Kingsley. Sense Kingston is a platform to visualize the air quality and weather of Kingston through the transit network. And Kingsley is a tool designed for the City of Kingston website that aims to make finding and accessing relevant information easy and convenient.

    The other five teams came from St. Lawrence College and focused on a range of topics, including accessible public washrooms and tourism. Strive Storage from St. Lawrence earned the Smart Kingston Stream award.  

    “We were blown away by the caliber of ideas presented by the teams during the pitch competition,” says Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson in a release from the city. “I look forward to this event each year. It’s very exciting to have a front-row seat to see how the next generation is anticipating and problem-solving for Kingston’s current and future needs.” 

    Learn more about the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge on the City of Kingston website.