- Apr 5, 2021
The challenge of communications during COVID-19 has led two HBA students to create a web browser platform to help deliver timely emergency alerts and messages to Ontario’s smaller communities.
Roy Katznelson and Tristan Tsvetanov, both HBA candidates and dual degree students at Ivey Business School, founded their company – Communicaty – through a COVID-19-related hackathon called Hack the Curve. The event, run by Ryerson’s DMZ and the town of Innisfil, located approximately 80 kilometres north of Toronto, gave an online opportunity to students and the public to build solutions to tackle community challenges related to the pandemic.
Through Hack the Curve, Innisfil commissioned a way to efficiently communicate not only pandemic-related messages, but also other community information, such as leisure events, weather and traffic alerts, gas leaks or flooding issues to its residents. Traditional mail was too slow. Innisfil needed a solution that offered instant communication to targeted regions.
Their solution: Notify Innisfil. The custom solution provides secure, reliable, and relevant information in real time to residents who opt into their choice of alerts. The town can then create and distribute relevant messages in minutes.
“The idea was to replace mail communication with something faster and that provided a greater level of targeting,” said Katznelson, who is doing his dual degree in Biology. “With this platform, residents get the alerts they want in a minute, rather than waiting a couple of days for a notice to come in the mail.”
Pilot project underway
The students are now piloting their solution in the town of approximately 36,500.
“From here, we will look at how many people reached. Did it function correctly? Are the residents happy with their options? What's their feedback like?” said Tsvetanov, who is taking his dual degree in Computer Science. “Then we extend to a longer-term engagement with the town.”
Combining the development of the Notify Innisfil with their studies in HBA Program and as dual degree students all the while navigating the pandemic safely has been challenging for the students.
“We spent the first six to eight months working on this without even being in the same room together,” said Katznelson. But the shift to virtual allowed them development opportunities that working live together might not have provided.
“That's the beauty of the software business is our technology lives online and doesn't actually have to be tethered to some geographic place,” said Tsvetanov.
“The need for timely communication has always been critical, but even more so during the current pandemic,” said Mayor Lynn Dollin in an interview with a local news site. “This new alert system helps us send instant town-wide or targeted updates that will keep residents up-to-date with what’s happening in their community. We’re excited to offer this technology as one more way to connect with residents.”