Recap: PodSummit 2018

I was really glad to have had the opportunity to attend PodSummit 2018 on Saturday, May 5 at CKUA in downtown Edmonton. About 100 “podcasters and the podcast-curious” attended the event to learn about starting a podcast, making it sound amazing, growing an audience, and creating content that listeners will love. Organized by Ernest Barbaric, the sold out event featured six sessions punctuated by ice-breakers and other fun activities. Every single talk was interesting and informative, so well done to the organizers and speakers on knocking it out of the park!

PodSummit

Before I share some of my notes from the day, you might be wondering why I (as primarily a blogger) would attend an event about podcasting!

My podcasting story

I started a podcast in 2013 with Graham Hicks called Mack & Cheese. We published 59 episodes before calling it quits and moving on to other projects. But my history with podcasting goes back much further, to 2004 when I launched a podcast called Blogosphere Radio before we even called them podcasts (we just called it a show). That helped me to see an opportunity, and in 2006 I launched Podcast Spot, a hosting service for podcasters. We ended up shutting it down a couple of years later.

Reflecting in October 2008 on what I might have done differently, I wrote:

“There’s a ton of things I might have done differently, but two things in particular: I would have avoided using the word “podcast” in the name of our service; and, I would have focused on sharing audio and video for a specific niche.”

At the time, podcasts were very associated with the iPod, and they were fairly difficult to work with. You still had to plug your device into a computer to sync the audio files! It was far from certain that podcasting would take off. Today it seems almost silly to question the success of podcasting, given the popularity of podcasts like Serial and The Daily, the latter of which apparently averages about 1 million listeners a day (and I am one of them).

Here’s what we learned at PodSummit

PodSummit reflected the current state of podcasting with a much more diverse audience than the geeks and old white guys that were common a decade ago. There was a good mix of podcasting vets and newbies.

The day started with Rob Greenlee‘s State of the Podcasting Union. He noted there has been “steady growth” but thanks to media coverage there’s “a perception that things are exploding.” Rob cited The Infinite Dial Canada, a new study of consumer behavior and media consumption, and noted that 61% of Canadians 18+ are familiar with the term podcast. There are something like 525,000 podcasts in existence, about half of which are active, with maybe 2,000 new ones added each month. The number of listeners for all of those podcasts could get much bigger in the months ahead as both Google and Spotify are ramping up their activities in the space. Rob finished by suggesting that dynamic ad insertion will be a big thing for podcasting in the year ahead.

PodSummit

Next up was Roger Kingkade who shared tips on how to design a successful podcast. “People will listen,” he said, noting that both David Letterman and Howard Stern amassed large audiences even though their topics don’t at first seem that interesting. “You are what will connect with the audience.” Here are his tips for podcasting success:

  • Your topic should be about someone else’s problem or interest. Start from a place of servitude, and know you’re filling a gap in your listener’s life.
  • You can find an existing community and learn about their wants and needs, then answer their questions on your podcast.
  • Make a perspective statement, and run every episode through it, to ensure that you stay on track.
  • Think about your approach: will be you be the Jedi teacher, the explorer, or the guide?
  • Ask your audience for ratings and reviews – they’re much more likely to do it if you ask!
  • You need to be consistent. Roger recommends recording a bunch of episodes before you launch, and publish the first three right away, to help develop a rapport with your audience.

Topic, Audience, and Perspective form the golden triangle for your podcast, he said. Roger suggested planning your podcast (one tool you could use is Karen’s Podcast Canvas) to ensure you focus on answering the right questions.

PodSummit

The final session of the morning was from Andrea Beça, who shared her tips on growth & promotion strategies. She echoed the importance of fulfilling a need or solving a problem with your podcast. “Podcasts are not an ‘if you build it they will come’ kind of thing,” she told us. It takes work, and you will put “way too many” hours into creating your podcast! Building your community is key to building your podcast, and Andrea shared a number of useful suggestions like choosing the right social media channels for your audience, thinking about visuals to help promote your work, and keeping tabs on previous guests to support them (and have them support you back). Speaking of guests, Andrea said to choose them wisely, and noted that the first 40 listeners will do more for you than your next 400, so honor them! She also said it is ok to reference past episodes, something that too many people are surprisingly reluctant to do. “Don’t let your content die,” she said.

PodSummit

I skipped lunch, but I understand that Ernest himself gave a great talk on how to start a podcast.

After lunch we heard from Mike Russell, who gave a masterclass on editing and production. His tool of choice is Adobe Audition, so that’s what he used to illustrate his tips:

  • Don’t edit out every pause or breath, otherwise it’ll sound unnatural.
  • Start with good audio – you can’t fix a terrible recording!
  • Don’t worry about mistakes: just be you.
  • You can make a voice sound better using the parametric equalizer tool.
  • You can also compress a voice a little, which will even out the loud and quiet parts of your voice.
  • You can add a noise gate to help get rid of background noises.
  • Use ripple deletes to trip an edit without leaving a gap.
  • If you’re interviewing someone via Skype, adaptive noise reduction can be very useful.

Mike was a great presenter, and I loved the approach he used, handing off to his pre-recorded self to demo things.

PodSummit

Next up was Andreas Schwabe who spoke about the art of podcasting. He’s a former teacher at NAIT and was the Director of Digital Media for the Oilers. He had some fantastic tips and suggestions:

  • Sound like you mean it!
  • Planning ahead is key. Reinforce the three phases: what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then recap it.
  • Writing for the ear is a different thing than normal writing. You can find this out by recording yourself and then transcribing the audio.
  • Keep it short using declarative sentences.
  • Avoid cliches like Monday soup. (Because the Friday leftovers go into the Monday soup!)
  • Play with turns of phrase. “You can lead a chicken to ice but you can’t make it skate.”
  • Sound provides a lot of information, including location, speed, material, mass, and density.
  • You can convey a lot with your voice through pacing, tension, etc.
  • Talk to an audience of one, not many.
  • Refer to events rather than dates or times, and rough figures rather than exact numbers (unless you need to be specific for a reason).
  • Identify your crutches like “so” or “ok” or “um” and work to reduce them.
  • Listen to lots of podcasts to find out what you hate about them so you can avoid that in your own podcast!
  • Remember that no one sets out to make a bad podcast.

Such a fantastic talk.

PodSummit

The final session of the day was a monetization campfire chat featuring Andrea Beça, Erika Ensign, and Karen Unland. It was a great chat on the three legs of the podcast monetization stool: sponsorship/ads, listener support, and feeding your business. They noted the chances are good that while you might earn enough to cover your costs, earning enough to cover your time is a whole other thing. The fact is, many podcasts are labors of love.

Wrap-up

As mentioned there were some great activities throughout the day, like Podcast Bingo. It was a fun way to move around the room meeting other people and learning a thing or two about them or their podcast. I also liked the Pitch It Forward activity that Karen from the Alberta Podcast Network hosted, which got people to pitch other people’s podcasts!

It’s really encouraging to see such a strong podcast community here in Edmonton. If you’re pod-curious, I encourage you to check out the Edmonton Podcasting Meetup. And if you’re looking for some great local podcasts to listen to, be sure to read the Alberta Podcast Network’s regular roundups.

PodSummit

Congratulations to Ernest, his wife, their adorable daughter, and all of the other volunteers on hosting such a useful and successful event!

You can see the rest of my photos here.

Edmonton Notes for May 13, 2018

Happy Mother’s Day! This one is special.

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

  • Thales Canada fired back at the City of Edmonton this week saying “a big challenge is education, fundamentally.” Thales vice-president Dave Beckley said “it’s at all levels of the organization.” They have submitted a new schedule for review, which the City is evaluating.
  • City of Edmonton Chief Economist John Rose says Edmonton’s economy should continue growing as long as the Province avoids deep spending cuts. “We have already seen the leader of the UCP (Jason Kenney) talking about significant reductions in provincial expenditures, so that could be very negative in terms of the outlook, but right now, modest growth.”
  • The City received 12 formal submissions and 50 ideas on developing the Northlands Coliseum lands. The next step is to review the submissions and explore “a list of viable, innovative ideas that best realize the project’s potential and guiding principles.”
  • Clare Drake, “the legendary University of Alberta coach known as the winningest college hockey coach ever,” died today at the age of 89.
  • The City of Edmonton’s proposal in the $50 million Smart Cities Challenge has been officially accepted by Infrastructure Canada. “Edmonton’s proposal makes the case for an innovative Healthy City Ecosystem of residents, post secondary institutions, research organizations and governments united to provide meaningful and efficient health services to people.” You can read the submission here.
  • Joy Lakhan is the City of Edmonton’s new GoatWorks coordinator. “I’m both humbled and excited to work in this position,” she said. You can look forward to “Meet and Bleat” events this summer!
  • Edmonton’s Borden Park Pavilion won a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture and is another example of how architecture in our city is improving. “I think the whole culture of architecture in Edmonton is really … frankly, it’s become interesting to the rest of the country,” Pat Hanson said.
  • Jay Esterer, who bought the Edmonton Queen riverboat two years ago, has received regulatory approval to operate for the next two summers. “I think it showcases the river valley. It gets more people down on the river and it’s really beautiful here.”
  • Could colorful crosswalks enhance safety in our city? The idea came up recently from Child Friendly Edmonton and Councillor Aaron Paquette thinks it could really make a difference.
  • Organizers for the 2018 Grey Cup Festival, taking place right here in Edmonton in November, are looking for 1,000 volunteers to help out with activities like the zipline, which is coming back, bigger and better than last time!
  • Edmonton Fire Rescue Services planned to visit 350 homes in Eastwood and Alberta Avenue over the weekend to install combination carbon monoxide/smoke detectors. “Since the Smoke Alarm Program began in 2007, EFRS has provided close to 7,000 smoke alarms.”
  • ICYMI: Here’s my recap of the topping off ceremony for the new JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District.
  • Mark Messier was among the 45 Canadians invested into the Order of Canada this week.
  • From Explore Edmonton, here are your Summer Must-Dos in Edmonton. They made a video too.
  • For more recent headlines, check out ShareEdmonton.

Commonwealth Stadium & Northlands Coliseum

Upcoming Events

Edmonton Playground
Edmonton Playground, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

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Recap: AccelerateAB 2018

AccelerateAB 2018 took place in Edmonton on April 24. The sold-out conference explored the theme of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As A100 Executive Director Cynthia van Sundert said in her message to attendees:

“Our province is home to some of the world’s leading thinking, research, and startups around A.I. It is fortuitous that this year’s event is being held in Edmonton, where the world famous Alberta Machine Learning Institute (Amii) – the global academic leader in A.I. – is located within the University of Alberta.”

The annual conference alternates between Edmonton and Calgary, and always draws an interesting mix of leaders, investors, influencers, and entrepreneurs. The 450-ish in attendance at the Shaw Conference Centre this year were treated to an opening keynote from Scott Penberthy, Google’s Director of Applied AI, a series of AI-related panels, and a closing keynote with Dr. Richard Sutton, a Research Scientists with DeepMind at the University of Alberta.

AccelerateAB 2018
Photo by Pinstripe Productions

EEDC’s Cheryll Watson brought opening remarks, and encouraged everyone to “think of ways for Edmonton and Calgary to work together.” She spoke about having “an Alberta mindset” to be more competitive globally than just thinking about the two cities independently.

Rise of Software 2.0

Scott Penberthy opened his talk with some personal history, telling us how he was inspired by Marvin Minsky and Richard Stallman. It wasn’t long though until he was talking about scalars, vectors, tensors, matrices, and more. It was a bit technical for some in the audience I’m sure, but it served as a nice setup to the central premise of his talk: what if you could do math on thought?

“Artificial intelligence is an over-hyped but under-appreciated change,” he told the crowd. Noting that computing power has improved by a billion-fold since 1958, Penberthy highlighted some of the key advances in AI in recent years, including beating humans at image recognition in 2012 and winning at Go in 2016. He cited Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns to help illustrate why further advances in AI will come more rapidly (and mentioned this video about a rock). Penberthy talked about AutoML, which is basically AI creating AI, as one such advance. He also showed some charts from the popular and accessible Wait But Why series on AI to really drive home the possibilities before us.

AccelerateAB 2018
Photo by Pinstripe Productions

“AI is going to be like having a database,” he said. “Soon every business will have this.” Penberthy devoted a good chunk of his time to explaining how AI will help businesses to be more competitive. He touched on TensorFlow, Google’s open source library for dataflow programming, and encouraged the audience to just start playing with the great tools that are now available. “Don’t build it from scratch, leverage existing AI technologies so you can focus on your differentiation,” he said. Kaggle is a good place to start, he suggested.

I appreciated Penberthy’s overview of AI, and also that he called out the success we’ve had here in Alberta in the field. “Canada saw it when no one else saw it.”

Key Takeaways: Panel Sessions

There were two AI-themed panels throughout the day: The Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence and An Entrepreneurial Journey with Artificial Intelligence. Here are some key takeaways I noted:

  • AI is a very broad term, and machine learning is just one technique.
  • AI is at the nexus of many disciplines and fields, and provides us with techniques for intelligently making decisions using data.
  • Machine learning is useful when it is impossible to hard code a decision or when things are constantly changing, like in the real world.
  • Machine learning will find patterns in your data, but you can’t make inferences about the data that you don’t have.
  • You need to know why the data is important for the decision you’re trying to make.
  • Successful AI projects need both a well-defined problem and data in a usable format.
  • Opportunities include biomedical advances and personalized medicine, automation of boring, repetitive, and dangerous jobs, and ways for humans and machines to work better together.
  • The reason we have so much opportunity is because of the hardware – we simply didn’t have the power in the past.
  • Edmonton is the best place in the world to start a machine learning company!

AccelerateAB 2018
Photo by Pinstripe Productions

In the afternoon, the always popular Scaling Eff-Ups panel took place. Some key takeaways from that session:

  • Building a business is one of the most intense things you can do.
  • If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not reaching high enough.
  • Every industry is surrounded by patents so you need to do your homework.
  • Pay attention to the people around you and take action, but know that loyalty can be good too.

Much of the insight from the final panel could actually be boiled down to team selection. Many of the “eff-ups” the entrepreneurs discussed involved a member of the team who was selected hastily or who otherwise was not a good fit for the business.

Startup Pitches

The afternoon featured the startup pitch competition, a staple at the conference. There were pitches from 8 startups this year:

  • Fitset: “Experience fitness freedom with easy access to just about every studio & gym in Edmonton with Fitset.”
  • IronSight: “A service-hailing technology that strengthens the link between B2C through data-driven dispatching.”
  • MicroMech: “Redefining the auto service industry by sending auto mechanics directly to a customer’s door.”
  • Mikata Health: “Built a system sing machine learning that helps doctors and their administration teams to eliminate 1-2 hours of data entry each day.”
  • Paytickr: “A cloud-based service for small business that has combined time tracking and payroll distribution services into one platform.”
  • Skillpics: “A rich networking community where students can showcase their experience, portfolios, resumes and skills to potential employers.”
  • Symend: “A FinTech company that is successfully implementing recovery strategy by combining workflow and campaign automation with proven approaches in behavioural science.”
  • ShareSmart: “Mitigating costly healthcare data breaches with a system that allows healthcare professionals to take and share patient information securely.”

Each entrepreneur had a few minutes to deliver their elevator pitch, followed by a few minutes for questions from the three judges: James Keirstead, Kristina Milke, and Peter Calverley.

AccelerateAB 2018
Photo by Pinstripe Productions

Congratulations to ShareSmart on being named the winner! They took home more than $15,000 in cash and prizes, including a $10,000 micro-voucher from Alberta Innovates.

Wrap-up

I previously wrote about Dr. Richard Sutton’s closing keynote on how Edmonton is a world leader in the science of artificial intelligence. You can also check out this Twitter thread on his talk fro Alex Kearney.

Our city’s leadership position in the field (and indeed, Alberta’s) is a key strength that we need to be proud of, and to leverage. It was great to see AccelerateAB shine a light on this. You can find out more about Edmonton’s AI pedigree at Edmonton.AI, a community-driven group with the goal of creating 100 AI and ML companies and projects.

AccelerateAB 2019 will be taking place in Calgary. Follow them on Twitter for updates!

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 41

Edmonton’s 41st DemoCamp took place last night at the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences (CCIS) on the University of Alberta campus. You can see my recap of DemoCamp Edmonton 41 here.

Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science

If you’re new to DemoCamp, here’s what it’s all about:

“DemoCamp brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics. For presenters, it’s a great way to get feedback on what you’re building from peers and the community, all in an informal setting. Started back in 2008, DemoCamp Edmonton has steadily grown into one of the largest in the country, with over 200 people attending each event. The rules for DemoCamp are simple: 7 minutes to demo real, working products, followed by a few minutes for questions, and no slides allowed.”

It was one of the quickest DemoCamps in recent memory – I guess everyone wanted to get to drinks! We had five demos, in order of appearance:

Paulie Blart is a Raspberry Pi-based robot that was built for the SF Hacks hackathon in just 24 hours – and it won! The robot uses IBM’s Watson services to do facial recognition and when an intruder is detected, it can send you a text that includes a picture of the intruder. The robot can also be controlled by sending it a “start” or “stop” text message. Cool stuff! In his post about the win, Megnath wrote: “A special thanks to the talented and vibrant Edmonton tech community (Startup Edmonton, UofA CompE Club, etc) for organizing local hackathons and encouraging students like me to aim bigger.”

The Bylaw Infraction Dashboard uses open data from the City of Edmonton’s open data catalogue to visualize bylaw infractions. The dashboard includes a number of visualizations and they’re connected – so you can slice and dice the data by clicking on one visualization and seeing the rest update. It reminds me a lot of the way that Power BI can work. I enjoyed Michael’s story about seeing other data visualizations and getting inspired to build his own. Whether he realized it or not, his demo was a good commercial for the open data catalogue too!

Go With the Flow is a fun project that controls an LED light strip based on the audio coming from your computer. Each LED represents a single frequency, so as the sound changes, the lights get brighter or dimmer, and the color changes. Curtis demoed it with some music and also the Avengers Infinity War trailer. Always fun when we get to turn the lights down at DemoCamp.

DemoCamp Edmonton 41

IdyaFlow is software for peer-to-peer marketplaces. It’s not another place to list your couch for rent, but it can help you build the site on which you might do that. If you have a community of buyers and suppliers, then IdyaFlow can provide the technology to help you connect them. It has a focus on real-time messaging to help facilitate those community interactions. At first I was wondering if there’s actually a market for this, but when you think about it, there are hundreds of “Uber for X” type businesses, and they all have more or less the same technical requirements/features. So building a generic backend that can service them all just might work.

I think Rewardful has a lot of potential, and I am eager to see how it evolves. The service provides “a simple way for SaaS companies to setup affiliate and referral programs with Stripe.” Currently it supports a commission-based approach, but there are plans to add other possibilities like extending an existing subscription or flat referral fees. There are some companies in this space already, but if Rewardful can keep it simple and developer-friendly (like Stripe itself) I think there’s plenty of opportunity.

I always enjoy when there are a mix of hardware and software demos, and also experiments or “for fun” projects vs. actual businesses.

Here are some upcoming events to note that were mentioned in-between demos:

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 42 in September!

Edmonton Notes for May 6, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

JW Marriott Hotel and Stantec Tower
JW Marriott Hotel and Stantec Tower, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

LRT Construction at the Harbin Gate
LRT Construction at the Harbin Gate

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Edmonton Notes for April 29, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Downtown Edmonton
Downtown Edmonton

Upcoming Events

Urban Barn
Urban Barn, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

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Edmonton is a world leader in the science of artificial intelligence

Though he works in perhaps the most hyped field of science there is, Dr. Richard Sutton comes across as remarkably grounded. I heard him described at the 2018 AccelerateAB conference on Tuesday as “the Wayne Gretzky of artificial intelligence” and he’s often called a global pioneer in the field of AI. Sutton has spent 40 years researching AI and literally wrote the textbook on Reinforcement Learning. But he spent the first part of his closing keynote discussing the tension between ambition and humility. “It’s good to be ambitious,” he told the audience tentatively. “I’m keen on the idea of Alberta being a pioneer in AI.” But he tempered that by discussing the risk of ambition turning to arrogance and affecting the work of a scientist.

AccelerateAB

“I think you should say whatever strong thing is true,” he said. Then: “Edmonton is a world leader in the science of AI.”

Sutton made sure to highlight the word “science” and noted that we fall behind when it comes to the application of AI. And of course, he backed up his claim with sources, citing DeepMind’s decision to open an international AI research office here at the University of Alberta, and pointing to the csrankings.org site which ranks the U of A at #2 in the world for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

So how did Edmonton come to be such a leader?

It started with Jonathan Schaeffer’s work in the 1990s on Chinook, the first computer program to win the world champion title in checkers. The U of A’s growing expertise in game AI helped to attract a number of AI/ML professors and funding from the provincial and federal governments throughout the early 2000s. Edmonton’s rise to AI prominence was cemented with DeepMind’s recent decision to locate here.

Sutton showed the following timeline to help illustrate Edmonton’s path to AI-science leadership:

AccelerateAB

Sutton then outlined some of the key advances that have happened in the field of artificial intelligence over the last seven years:

  • IBM’s Watson beats the best human plays of Jeopardy! (2011)
  • Deep neural networks greatly improve the state of the art in speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing (2012-)
  • Self-driving cars becomes a plausible reality (2013-)
  • DeepMind’s DQN learns to play Atari games at the human level, from pixels, with no game-specific knowledge (~2014)
  • University of Alberta program solves Limit Poker (2015) and then defeats professional players at No-limit Poker (2017)
  • DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeats legendary Go player Lee Sedol (2016) and world champion Ke Jie (2017), vastly improving over all previous programs
  • DeepMind’s AlphaZero decisively defeats the world’s best programs in Go, chess, and shogi (Chinese chess), with no prior knowledge other than the rules of each game

Though the research taking place here in Edmonton and elsewhere has helped to make all of that possible, “the deep learning algorithms are essentially unchanged since the 1980s,” Sutton told the audience. The difference, is cheaper computation and larger datasets (which are enabled by cheaper computation). He showed a chart illustrating Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns to make the point that it is the relentless decrease in the price of computing that has really made AI practical.

“AI is the core of a second industrial revolution,” Sutton told the crowd. If the first industrial revolution was about physical power, this one is all about computational power. As it gets cheaper, we use more of it. “AI is not like other sciences,” he explained. That’s because of Moore’s Law, the doubling of transistors in integrated circuits every two years or so. “It feels slow,” he remarked, and I found myself thinking that only in a room of tech entrepreneurs would you see so many nodding heads. “But it is inevitable.”

Given this context, Sutton had some things to say about the future of the field:

  • “Methods that scale with computation are the future of AI,” he said. That means learning and search, and he specifically called out prediction learning as being scalable.
  • “Current models are learned, but they don’t learn.” He cited speech recognition as an example of this.
  • “General purpose methods are better than those that rely on human insight.”
  • “Planning with a learned model of a limited domain” is a key challenge he sounded excited about.
  • “The next big frontier is learning how the world works, truly understanding the world.”
  • He spoke positively about “intelligence augmentation”, perhaps as a way to allay fears about strong AI.

Recognizing the room was largely full of entrepreneurs, Sutton finished his talk by declaring that “every company needs an AI strategy.”

I really enjoyed the talk and was happy to hear Sutton’s take on Edmonton and AI. It’s a story that more people should know about. You can find out more about Edmonton’s AI pedigree at Edmonton.AI, a community-driven group with the goal of creating 100 AI and ML companies and projects.

If you’re looking for more on AI to read, I recommend Wait But Why’s series: here is part 1 and part 2.

Edmonton Notes for April 22, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

105th
105th, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

Funicular Elevator

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Recap: Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to help judge the City of Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition. Connected to Edmonton’s Smart Cities Challenge, the competition invited citizens to propose innovative approaches to improve the four health indicators of mental health, physical health, social health, and economic health. Nearly 40 proposals were submitted, and a previous round of judging (that I was not involved in) narrowed that down to the top 5, who were invited to spend a month working on a prototype which they demoed at the event yesterday.

HealthHack Competition

These were the top 5 teams who presented a prototype:

Buddy Benches
Submitted by Troy Pavlek

“The City of Edmonton started the work on reducing social isolation with our buddy bench program, now I propose to take that simple act of saying “hello” online as well and make it easier and more persistent to connect with those around you. By connecting physical locations in Edmonton to a persistent online community we can reduce social isolation, improve mental health and get people out in the community.”

Cannabis Ecosystem
Submitted by Joe Dang and Reed Sutton

“With the legalization of recreational cannabis throughout Canada rapidly approaching, there is a significant lack of data regarding its use and effect on various aspects of health. By leveraging blockchain technology, Edmonton has the opportunity to shape a new national ecosystem surrounding healthy cannabis consumption and regulation, while simultaneously generating open and transparent data that will have global implications.”

Fitness App for Non-Athletes
Submitted by Dr. PJ Rawlek, K. DeZutter, N. Twal, C. Nicole, E. Barbaric and B. Poetz

“The current problem with the thousands of fitness app technologies is they’re designed to compete for that market of those 15% of Canadians, the highly motivated, exercise-experienced. Alternatively, the GoGet.Fit solution is designed to specifically target that 85%, the under-serviced mostly apprehensive exercise-naïve population. This solution will provide solid evidence-based strategies early-on to support the pursuit of a healthier active lifestyle and will optimize success through providing valued support from a professional team – their healthcare provider networked with a community-based exercise specialist.”

Urban Design/Mental Health App
Submitted by Fahim Hassan, Rokib S A, Mohib Khan and Hamman Samuel

“Develop an interactive web application that will collect geo-coded Twitter data, analyze the text and link it with socio-economic data. The insight will help planners and policy makers to improve urban design and achieve mental health outcomes.”

Wheelchair Accessibility Tracker
Submitted by Martin Ferguson-Pell

“We wish to make significant modifications to a research prototype to enable us to improve accessibility and provide information to wheelchair users about the physical effort needed to propel a wheelchair in our built environments (summer and winter).”

Thoughts on the competition

Picking a winner from those proposals was not easy! We scored each prototype on three criteria: health impact, innovation, and completeness. After each presentation, we had a few minutes to ask questions of the presenters. Everyone did such a good job of describing their prototype and fielding our queries.

HealthHack Competition
Members of the winning teams

Congratulations to Martin Ferguson-Pell, who took home the grand prize of $5,000 for his “Fitbit for wheelchairs”. While there could be advantages to trip planning using the data that the device collects, I actually think it would be more impactful to map areas of the city and use that to improve infrastructure and design. Pushing around a stroller these past couple of months has made it clear just how difficult it can be to traverse our city sidewalks, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for wheelchair users. Apparently 75% of wheelchair users report shoulder issues, so anything we can do to make the ride smoother would have a big impact.

I love the premise behind GoGet.Fit: that most existing fitness apps and technologies are targeted toward people who are already active. The other 85% of the population needs some help, or we’re all going to pay for it via increased healthcare costs. Rather than just count steps using a Fitbit, GoGet.Fit connects you with professionals (doctors, nurses, fitness instructors, etc.) so that they can take a more active role in ensuring that you get active! They already have hundreds of users, and have conducted a successful pilot with a PCN.

Troy’s presentation for extending buddy benches into the digital realm was very engaging. Using NFC to quickly connect you to a community of people who have physically been where you are is a great idea. A little like checking in on Foursquare used to be, I guess.

The “Urban Design/Mental Health App” was a neat use of Twitter data, and is something I have often thought about. What can we learn from geotagged tweets that could help us improve the way we build our city?

I’ll admit that a bunch of red flags went up for me on the Cannabis Ecosystem prototype. Blockchain and cannabis? Talk about going after buzzwords! That said, the application of blockchain technology to safely collect and share data on cannabis use is intriguing, and the system they presented seems to be very well thought out. I look forward to seeing how they take it forward!

This being the first year that the City has held the HealthHack competition, they opened it to everyone, which means we ended up with an interesting mix of both existing and brand new projects. We struggled with that as judges. In future years, breaking proposals into two categories would be a good way to allow for both while making the judging a little more fair.

Well done to the finalists and indeed to everyone who submitted a proposal!

Health Innovation in Edmonton

Though they share a similar objective – innovation in healthcare – the HealthHack competition should not be confused with Hacking Health, an event that first happened in Edmonton back in 2013. That said, both events help bring the vision that Mayor Don Iveson first shared in 2016 of “positioning Edmonton as a world class health innovation city” to life. It’s exciting to see some real on-the-ground activity!

HealthHack Competition

Why Edmonton as a health city?

“The Edmonton ecosystem has a range of assets in the health innovation space. This includes Canada’s largest integrated health system and a readiness to diversify the economy; researchers and entrepreneurs who have created and will create new products, devices and system innovations; and a willingness to take risks in order to drive growth.”

You can learn more about the Health City Initiative here.

Edmonton Notes for April 15, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Two Second Headways
Two Second Headways, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Upcoming Events

  • I hope to see you at City Hall on Monday afternoon for the City of Edmonton’s HealthHack Prototype event! It runs from 2-4pm.
  • The 110th Edmonton Kiwanis Music Festival kicks off on Monday and runs through the end of the month.
  • Head over to the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday from 10-4pm for the Edmonton Career Fair & Training Expo.
  • The families of four Edmonton-area Humboldt Broncos players will host a public Celebration of the lives of Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter, Parker Tobin and Stephen Wack at 1:00 PM MT on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at Rogers Place. You can get free tickets here.
  • The City is hosting two public engagement sessions this week on proposed grass and yard waste collection changes, on Wednesday at the Mill Woods Senior and Multicultural Centre and on Thursday at the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre.
  • The Sexual Exploitation Working Group is hosting a lunch & learn on Thursday at MacEwan University. Wear orange to support the 2018 Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness.
  • Rapid Fire Theatre’s Bonfire Festival continues on Thursday and Friday at the Citadel.
  • Friday is 4/20. One of the events taking place that day to celebrate is 420 FEST at Union Hall.
  • The Edmonton Cottage Life & Cabin Show takes place at the Edmonton Expo Centre from Friday to Sunday.
  • Chantal Kreviazuk is performing at the Winspear Centre on Saturday evening.
  • Saturday is Lay Day Edmonton, a free opportunity to “tour the Edmonton Law Courts, view mock trials featuring the Ghostbusters, the Cat in the Hat, Mario & friends, and Superman, and receive legal consultations and information from our volunteer lawyers.”
  • This year’s Spring Edmonton Woman’s Show takes place at the Edmonton Expo Centre on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Save the date! AccelerateAB is taking place at the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday, April 24.

Spring Thaw & Rocks
Spring Thaw

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