Answers submitted by team lead Marah Abdelkader and the Stetix team, who produced Spiravita.
Tell me about your group – how much do you represent the different parts of the country?
Our group initially started with 11 students from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and British Columbia. After Stetix was selected to represent Carleton at the Cup, more SHADs joined our team. Now, in addition to the provinces mentioned above, we have contributions from Newfoundland and Alberta.
How much had you thought about food security before this summer?
I didn’t put any thought into food security in Canada before SHAD. I had thought of it as a huge problem around the world, but I forgot that Canadians could also be food insecure.
How important do you see this issue now?
After the exposure we got to this issue both through what was presented to us by SHAD Carleton and what we found out through our research, we recognize that food security is a bigger problem than we thought. Moving forward, we think it is really important to continue raising awareness about this issue.
Tell me about the idea your group came up with?
Our idea was to provide people living in more food insecure areas a way to grow their own Spirulina microalgae at home. As a very good source of nutrition, spirulina can be used to combat malnutrition in areas where it is harder or inconvenient to access nutritious foods. We created a kit that includes all the materials necessary to grow spirulina in a safe and controlled manner, including a specially designed tank that creates the perfect conditions for the task. The product is convenient, safe, and affordable.
How did you come up with your idea?
We had our whole group brainstorm and write possible ideas on sticky notes. One of our team members had written “edible algae tanks” and our whole group was very confused as to what that was. We decided to look into it, and it ended up being a success.
What makes it unique?
Spiravita is set apart by how easy it makes growing Spirulina. Its tank, featuring many safety features, does not take very much effort to maintain, with an easy-harvest system and automated climate-controlling systems. This, coupled with its home-friendly design, makes the product very suitable for the mass market, allowing the nutritional benefits of Spirulina to be accessible to more people.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome?
The biggest hurdle is the overall unease surrounding eating algae. It is uncommon, which makes people hesitant towards our product.
What did you learn from that?
In the beginning, even some of the members of our team were hesitant about the idea of eating Spirulina. However, after having done our research and trying it out for ourselves, the fear of eating it was completely gone. This taught us that our preconceived notions about certain things or unwillingness to try new and different things could be the reason we miss out on something really beneficial.
Is there a good story you could share behind the making of your product?
Despite the many challenges faced in creating the idea and business plan for our product, coming up with the name of our company was actually the most difficult challenge. We wanted a company name that fit the tone of our product, but was broad enough to allow for future products in different fields. After hours of mixing random syllables, searching up Latin words and meanings, and making spinoffs of existing words, we were beat. There were no company names left that hadn’t already been taken on existing domains. Lying around exhausted, one of our members suddenly remembered one of our team’s inside jokes that developed when we were building our Rube Goldberg machine. After realizing that we had collected more materials than we’d intended to and learning later that we’d be penalized for every item we didn’t use, we decided to put these extra materials to use. We used them for the “aesthetic” of our machine and from that day, in the very first week of SHAD, we named everything we wanted as “aesthetic”. By getting rid of the first syllable of the word, we finally came up with Stetix - a reminder of our team’s witty character.
What has this whole experience taught you and your group?
This experience has really opened our eyes to the urgent problem of food insecurity. We realized that even in developed countries such as Canada there are many who still live without access to nutritious, safe and affordable food.
How much further do you plan on going with your idea? What, if anything, have you done on that front?
We plan on developing our idea further, potentially looking to turn it into a legitimate business. Currently, in terms of transitioning our idea into reality, we have secured tentative support from Ryerson University’s Social Venture Zone, an incubator for startups focused on challenging systematic social problems in society. We have also developed some plans to secure adequate funding and operational support to see the idea through to actuality.
How does this design challenge help SHADs reach their potential in a way they may not get from their normal curriculum in classroom?
Even though as SHADs we are students who are genuinely invested in our learning and broadening our understanding, in the classroom, because of the way our education system is structured, it usually just comes down to one thing – getting good grades. Because of that, we often don’t tap into some of our potential as much as we did at SHAD. Throughout this challenge, we problem solved, self-taught new skills and communicated with professionals for business purposes, all things we don’t often get to do, if at all, in the classroom.
Additionally, the broadness of the theme of the design challenge allowed us to truly think outside the box in ways we couldn’t have in a classroom setting. See, in a classroom there are skills taught that are expected to be used, there is a rubric with very specific instructions that are meant to be followed and there is one teacher who has taught for many years expecting a certain product. With this challenge, we got to choose our target market and we got to cater a unique invention to this target market; we took a broad question and we made the project truly our own. The research we have done, the problems we’ve worked through, the ideas we’ve come up with, the way we’ve questioned our habits and broadened our perspectives throughout this project are all experiences we could not have had if it weren’t for SHAD.