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Teamwork is the Dreamwork: H2GRO nabs $5,000 prize at Velocity Climate Change Hackathon

Judges, winning team, and organizer
In photograph: Back row (l-r) Dhruv Gopalakrishnan (H2Gro), Shubham Kumar (WallCast), Andrew Cordssen-David (WallCast), Kade Truman (PowerCell), Klas Bockasten (Judge); Front row (l-r) Oluwanifemi Bamgbose (H2Gro), Lisa Truong (Judge), Tina Wilton (Program Manager), Mulei Mao (H2Gro), Maria Rubiano (H2Gro), Tim Donegani (Judge)  

Perseverance and a healthy dose of teamwork — plus keen technical knowledge — proved to be the winning combination for H2GRO as they secured the $5,000 first prize at the Climate Change Hackathon last week.

Since 2020 Velocity has partnered with Waterloo Climate Institute, this term awarding $10,000 to top hackers. The City of Kitchener, WR Community Energy, and Reep Green Solutions provided the hackathon’s problem spaces

  • Encouraging energy retrofits for rental units
  • Tackling energy poverty with equitable, accessible approaches to retrofits 
  • Capturing and distributing wasted heat in the community 

Seven teams participated in the three week-long hackathon which culminated in a final pitch event where each team had three minutes to present their findings to judges Lisa Truong, Energy Programs Manager at Reep Green Solutions, Tim Donegani Senior Planner at the City of Kitchener, and Klas Bockasten, Principal P. Eng. KEB Engineering. 

Each team worked with Velocity coaches, and climate change mentors Juan Moreno-Cruz, Marta Bebes, and Joyce Kim from whom they received feedback and support to explore the problem spaces, research, ideate and work on their solutions.  

H2GRO Team members Maria Rubiano, Master’s of Environmental Studies student, Mulei Mao Mechatronics Engineering student, and Oluwanifemi Bamgbose and Dhruv Gopalakrishnan who are both pursuing Masters’ in Electrical and Computer Engineering, said supporting each other was a key ingredient to their success.

“Throughout the hackathon we met a number of times and had several iterations of the problem statement and broke down every step. We met in person to share our ideas and explored how our (cross-disciplinary) knowledge fit together.” 

Oluwanifemi Bamgbose

H2Gro pitched an idea for an external heat pump to extract thermal energy from wastewater pipes and redirect the heat to warm greenhouses. In addition, the group envisioned that produce grown at the greenhouse would be sold locally, and the proceeds would finance a social enterprise which would supply local food banks with fresh produce.

And being intentional about meeting in-person proved crucial to the team’s success. 

Mulei said if he hadn’t participated in the coffee chat midway through the hackathon the effort he had already put in would have gone to waste, as his original team had disbanded and he was looking for new teammates. 

“I was debating whether or not to go to the coffee chat,” Mulei said, as his teammates nodded in agreement. “If I hadn’t gone…none of the effort and luck that helped us win would have happened — you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.” 

Second place winner, Master’s in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology student Kade Truman, PowerCell, won $3,000 for his idea to transform wastewater into energy. 

WallCast, with Andrew Cordssen-David and Shubham Kumar who are pursuing their Master’s in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, placed third and won $2,000 for their retrofitting solution to conserve energy.

H2GRO said they are looking forward to continuing the hard work they put into their solution. 

Mulei said that despite all the work that they’ve already put into the project, still many questions remain unanswered. 

 “We got the judges’ contact information, and want to interview potential customers and do more research. We want to continue working with Velocity and want to leverage our student status and University of Waterloo connections to take the idea even further.”

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