For Akram Al-Otumi, a lifetime of passion for innovation and entrepreneurship has led him to a new challenge as the recently appointed manager of ShiftKey Labs.
“I have been involved in entrepreneurship since an early age, helping out with the family business,” says Al-Otumi. “I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur.”
Al-Otumi’s dreams have come true. Not only is he a successful entrepreneur in his own right with several start-ups under his belt, but now he is supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs in the Faculty of Computer Science-based innovation sandbox ShiftKey Labs.
Diverse entrepreneurial experience
Since moving to Halifax from Yemen in 2007, Al-Otumi has founded multiple businesses including Spritely, a platform to support tourists and newcomers in their transition to Canada; 3D Next, a 3D printing technology firm; and Al-Otumi Consulting.
Al-Otumi has a Master’s in Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation from Saint Mary’s University, a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on business leadership and systems thinking from Royal Roads University, and a Bachelor of Commerce from Dalhousie. He is also a lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship at Dalhousie.
For his contributions to the regional and national entrepreneurship and innovation agenda, Al-Otumi has been named one of Royal Bank of Canada’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants, one of the 21 Leaders of the 21st Century by 21inc, and an Enactus John Dobson Fellow among other honours and awards.
Al-Otumi brings his diverse entrepreneurial experience to his new role. ShiftKey Labs is a collaboration space that brings together students, faculty, industry, government and the community on technology-related innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We want to create the right environment where multi-disciplinary collaboration can happen,” explains Al-Otumi. “Students from any discipline – for example arts, science, business, computer science, engineering – can work on entrepreneurial start-up ideas and activities together."
Solving real problems
It is this passion for collaboration, community, and building innovation systems and hubs that attracted Al-Otumi to the role.
“I want to work on something that contributes to the broader community. Although ShiftKey Labs is student centric, we support the province, the country, and even the world through important projects.”
A good example of the impact ShiftKey Labs has on industry and wider society can be seen through the hackathon program.
Hackathons allow students to work on real-world problems, often with an industry partner. Working within a collaborative and diverse team, hackathons offer a platform to jumpstart creative and innovative approaches to existing challenges.
Since joining ShiftKey Labs, Al-Otumi has been developing the 2019/20 hackathon series with events including the Atlantic Health Datapalooza which explored patient wait times in Nova Scotia; and Atlantic Canada’s first ever NASA Space Apps Challenge, where participants will use authentic NASA data to help the space agency solve some of their challenges. Other hackathon themes for this academic year include Government Technology, Banking and Insurance, Media and Legal Technology.
“Real impact happens when people from different backgrounds, different experiences and skills are brought together to collaborate. We provide them with the right environment where they can cohesively work together to innovate,” says Al-Otumi.
Alongside hackathons, ShiftKey Labs hosts a diverse range of skills development, technology and networking sessions and programs, as well as its successful Lab Residency Program which provides teams of student and alumni entrepreneurs with in-kind and material support.
When asked why he cares so deeply about innovation and entrepreneurship, Al-Otumi says it’s all about “creating value.”
“Entrepreneurship creates value for people, helps them overcome challenges and solve problems. I truly believe it’s not just about making profit, there is more to it than that.”
He also alludes to the vital role entrepreneurship plays in the social and economic development of the province.
“It’s crucial for Nova Scotia and Canada. Entrepreneurship helps to attract people, jobs and prosperity; happiness increases when there are more opportunities,” says Al-Otumi. “It puts countries and cities on the map as positive contributors to the world.”
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