An inspiring challenge for young Ottawa innovators

March 11, 2015

By Ariel Visconti

Sebastian Chavarria will be picking the winner in a challenge hosted by University of Ottawa to design him a new prosthetic hand. Photo courtesy of University of Ottawa's Faculty of Engineering.

There is a good reason that a six-year-old will be picking the winner of an entrepreneurship contest at the University of Ottawa this month. The competition is all about designing him a new hand. 

The campus’ new Makerspace, located at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering, is sponsoring the competition to design the new prosthetic for young Sebastian Chavarria. His current prosthetic doesn’t fit well, but the new one will enable him to enjoy the normal activities of other boys his age.

“It’s not surprising that this challenge has attracted such excitement and strong interest. This is truly an amazing opportunity for young innovators to use their skills and creativity to make a real difference in someone’s life,” says Martin Croteau, OCE’s Director of Academic Entrepreneurship.

The competition is open to University of Ottawa students as well as the wider community. Participants are using open source prosthetic designs, improving on them with their own innovations, and producing a prototype using the Makerspace’s 3D printers. In addition to equipment access, the Makerspace is offering workshops and other support to guide participants through the prosthetic design process.

Launched last November as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the Makerspace fosters a spirit of creativity and innovation, serving as a “DIY” hub where entrepreneurially-minded students can bring their ideas to life through rapid prototyping. Ottawa-based start-up Tyto Robotics built the prototype for its drone at the facility.

The Makerspace is free for University of Ottawa students to use, and open to the public on Sundays. It has already become a vibrant component of the Capital Entrepreneurs Program — comprised of the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Algonquin College and Invest Ottawa — a Campus-Linked Accelerator (CLA) that aims to provide collaborative support programs for campus-based entrepreneurs. A main objective of the CLA Program is to embed new prototype capacity for young entrepreneurs, which makes the Makerspace an important resource for the campus entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ottawa.

The Government of Ontario is making a $20-million investment in the Campus-Linked Accelerator Program over the next two years as part of the province’s Youth Jobs Strategy. The program is managed by Ontario Centres of Excellence.

The prosthetic design challenge wraps up on March 13, and Sebastian will be picking the winning hand that best fits his needs by March 20. The competition has garnered significant interest from the University of Ottawa and beyond.