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Supporting the Next Generation of Tech Leaders

Posted by Becca Rawcliffe on February 6, 2018 in Graduate, News, Innovation, Outreach, Undergraduate, Students
Grant Wells, manager of ShiftKey Labs.
Grant Wells, manager of ShiftKey Labs.

Since launching three years ago, sandbox ShiftKey Labs has come a long way in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. “Halifax has become a real hub for start-up activity in the east coast of Canada, particularly in the technology sector where we are seeing huge advances,” explains Grant Wells, manager of ShiftKey Labs. “We have been working hard to develop initiatives to bridge the gap between students, industry and other provincial partners to create opportunities for emerging start-up talent.”

Launched in 2014 as part of a provincial initiative, the sandbox is a collaborative space hosted by the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie in partnership with Saint Mary’s University, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Nova Scotia Community College and Volta Labs.

As well as hosting and mentoring resident start-ups, Wells coordinates a diverse program of sessions and initiatives to encourage, develop and promote the entrepreneurial and innovative talents and ambitions of students, many of which include industry and alumni partners.


“Students get real value from hearing from, and working with, industry and members of our alumni community who can share their experiences and offer a real-world insight into being an entrepreneur or working in the tech industry,” says Wells. “The sandbox not only aims to nurture start-up talent but also prepare students for the workplace, whichever path they decide to go down.”


Halifax has become a real hub for start-up activity in the East Coast of Canada

Tackling real business problems


Hackathons have become a popular feature of the ShiftKey Labs events calendar, for students and industry. Taking place over a number of days, students tackle real industry-led business problems, during Hackathons which take place throughout the year. Wells champions this type of session for benefitting all parties.

“For our industry partners sponsoring Hackathons, they have the opportunity to gain insight into realistic solutions for issues they are facing in their business.

For students, the sessions act as a chance for teams and individuals to develop their skills, access industry expertise and gain recognition for their ideas. Hackathons really are a win-win for students and industry.”

A recent Hackathon saw Halifax-based social media analytics company Leadsift benefit from students tackling issues that affect their clients on a day-today basis. Founded by Dalhousie Computer Science alumni, Leadsift presented some of the common problems they are seeing in industry including corporate Twitter account mapping, B2B/B2C classification of online profiles and social media post classifiers, and asked student teams to use their skills to present feasible solutions.


Inspiring students to succeed


“The other side of the coin in preparing students for life as an innovator is mentorship and inspiration from the people who are living it,” says Wells.

“Students respond really well to hearing from those who have been in the same position as them and made their dream a reality. It adds a more human element to the journey, stepping away from the technical and focusing on personaldevelopment and the traits needed to succeed.”

A focus for the year ahead for ShiftKey Labs is to develop the opportunities for students to take advantage of this insight through a series of panel and fireside chat style sessions with alumni and industry partners. “Alumni are an invaluable asset to us, they have been where students are currently, maybe even on the same program, they have the benefit of hindsight and students can really learn from them.”

“I would love to see more alumni, from all stages of the career ladder and a variety of roles and sectors, getting involved with ShiftKey Labs. We are always looking for new ways to engage students and support them with developing their skills. There is a world of opportunities opening up in the east coast tech sector and we are dedicated to giving students the best start in finding their place after graduation.”