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NSCAD student wins big at the Halifax Innovation Challenge

Shima Soltani MDes student
MDes student Shima Soltani (third from left) with her winning team at the Halifax Innovation Challenge

First year Master of Design student Shima Soltani demonstrated the power of design thinking as part of a winning team at this year’s .

Organized by the Halifax Partnership and Dalhousie University, the 5th Annual Halifax Innovation Challenge provided students from Halifax universities an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to innovate and collaborate within interdisciplinary teams to solve real-life business challenges.

All teams were given one of three challenges to work on and present their solutions to executive leaders and academics. Winning teams received a cash prize of $1,200. 

Working with five Dalhousie students, Soltani’s team competed against ten other teams on a challenge called “Building Client Relationships and Trust with Al RBC.” They were asked how the bank might “safely and ethically use data & Artificial Intelligence to provide best-in-class financial solutions, advice, planning and recommendations to support the diverse needs of all of our clients.” 

“My teammates were so talented in their majors and knew a lot about AI, marketing, investing, banking and data science,” Soltani says. “The initial challenge inside our team was how to put all our expertise on a direct path to focus on the problem.”

They spoke with clients about RBC’s current situation and their relationship with clients, about RBC services and issues around the RBC phone application. Then they hit upon a solution: to use NOMI InvestPro, empowered by AI, to bridge the gap of RBC’s services. It proved to be a winning idea.

Halifax Innovation Challenge 2023
Student teams working at the Halifax Innovation Challenge 2023.

‘Teamwork is truly important’

“My role in the team was to help my team to focus on the main point of trust: what it means, and what happens when people lose their trust in a company. I looked at who the RBC’s clients are, their age groups, social groups and what their needs are and their expectations,” says Soltani.

Soltani’s teammate Zack Holroyd says that having someone with design expertise was very important to their success.

“We were able to have someone to make recommendations on what the application could do. With Shima’s help we were able to make an application that was reasonable to create based on her knowledge of design.”

“Sometimes technical people are focused more on the technical side while the management people care more about the presentation and business proposal. Designers are concerned more with people and that helps,” adds teammate Almasfiza Anwar Hussain. 

The inclusion of NSCAD design students at the Halifax Innovation Challenge began when Huschang Pourian, an assistant professor of design took his class to a pitch competition in September.

“I encouraged my MDes students to participate in this 2-day event, stressing the importance of entrepreneurial thinking, networking, and collaborative working across disciplines. But I did not supervise them – it was a completely self-directed initiative,” says Pourian.

“Teamwork is truly important,” says Soltani. “I learned how to deal with different points of view and put them in one direct way to address the challenge. I also learned how to manage my time in a short period of time, how to present my ideas, and how to support my ideas.”