Cleantech Startups 101 – Arthur Fallick, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
As part of our ongoing “Cleantech Startups 101” blog series, this week we interview Arthur Fallick, Associate Vice President, Research from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). Arthur is one of the architects of the innovative KPU-Foresight Challenge Dialogue, which is spurring on students to develop solutions to an environmental issue identified by the City of Surrey.
What is the KPU-Foresight Challenge Dialogue and how did it come about?
The KPU-Foresight Challenge Dialogue mirrors the challenge dialogue/pitch process that Foresight is applying in the corporate sector, particularly in their ARCTIC program.
We have a real emphasis on experiential learning and applied research at KPU, so we wanted to give students and faculty the opportunity to find cleantech solutions to real-life challenges. The current challenge was identified by the City of Surrey’s engineering department, who were looking for a solution to help them divert more organic waste away from landfill and meet the 80% diversion target set by Metro Vancouver. The focus is on multiple-unit residential units, where not much is happening in terms of sorting and diverting organic waste from landfill.
How does the KPU-Foresight Challenge Dialogue process work?
The students get credit for their work and develop their solutions over the course of three semesters, with the idea being that they design a working prototype that can be commercialized. Foresight and their Executives in Residence provide mentoring and training on the enterprise of innovation along the way.
Why is this process important to KPU?
We have transitioned into a polytechnic university and I think what differentiates us from other institutions is that we are, as I like to say, driven by demand, informed by science, transforming through impact.
We want to be at the intersection where science, technology, management and design meet –at the heart of Industry 4.0. You have to break down the silos between the engineers and the behavioral scientists and the ecologists, to name just a few, to develop the sustainable solutions that industry wants, government wants, and society wants.
We think we can produce the next generation of employees that have the problem solving, teamwork, creativity and critical thinking skills to solve some of our most pressing challenges. The process we’ve created with Foresight is one of the ways in which we can help our students and faculty engage in these kinds of challenges and develop the skills they need to solve them.
What’s unique about this partnership and program?
Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of it. Within KPU, there is strong inter-disciplinary collaboration on the challenge dialogue process – three faculties are involved, which is very unusual.
We also couldn’t do what we do without the involvement of the City of Surrey, who not only identified a challenge for the students to work on but provided funds to develop a prototype. And Foresight provided the guidance and perspective our students needed. We are tremendously grateful to both the City and Foresight for their time and efforts – it hasn’t always been easy but it has definitely been worth it.
What kind of results are you seeing?
An actual solution. The students are building a machine that will clean kitchen catchers – the small compost bins that many individual households use – and make it easier and more convenient to deposit organic waste. The idea is to encourage more people to compost more, which in turn will divert more waste away from landfill and to the new processing plant that is being built. Because the plant is an organic biodigester, it can be used to generate energy from waste. There are a lot of upsides.
What we’re also seeing is that students are getting experiential learning, addressing complex problems in real-world conditions, and developing ideas that contribute to a sustainable economy. They could develop a business around their idea, and contribute to the City of Surrey’s economic diversification. It’s exciting.
What inspires you most about seeing this process unfold?
The collaboration between the faculties, the partners and the students, and their commitment to doing things that ensure the prosperity of our kids and grandkids.
The real willingness to be open about where the future lies, and to position Southwestern BC as a leader in advanced manufacturing – there hasn’t been a focus on this in the past but there absolutely should be.
The creativity of the students – you could boil the ocean with their ideas! It’s so gratifying to see creative ideas becoming solutions and prototypes, and to see the sheer delight of the people who are involved. It’s real, it’s meaningful and it’s incredibly humbling – I get daily doses of Rumsfeldian “known unknowns.”
We need to harness this creativity more, we need to keep our students engaged and build bridges across disciplines. We’re tapping into that with the challenge dialogue process, we need to do more of it.