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New Ivey hackathon allows students to build a real-life data privacy solution

Mar 28, 2023

IveyHacks organizing team, l-r: Suraj Racharla, Harki Rakhraj,	Namrata Raina,	Nabila Naz, Alison Pinto, Muzzamil Shahbaz

The IveyHacks organizers. L-r: Suraj Racharla, Harki Rakhraj, Namrata Raina, Nabila Naz, Alison Pinto, and Muzzamil Shahbaz.

Ideas from a 48-hour hackathon involving both business and computer science students will help the world’s first data trust platform to move into the mobile space.

The first-ever IveyHacks event on March 16-18 was co-founded by Nabila Naz and Suraj Racharla, both MSc ’23 (Digital Management) candidates. It brought together 65 students from the Ivey MSc Digital Management stream and 65 Western computer science students ranging from first year through to masters. Working in mixed teams of six, the students were challenged to brainstorm and prioritize features that will help Cyder, a startup created by Ivey alumni, to build a new mobile platform.

Cyder (short for Control Your Data and Earn Royalties) is a browser extension that makes it difficult for companies to track individuals browsing the web without permission. It allows consumers to choose which companies they’ll provide data to in exchange for rewards. Cyder co-founders, Will Christodoulou and Sukhman Dulay, both MSc ’19, launched the product in 2022 due to concern about the disregard for user privacy.

The hackathon challenge

Now offered the chance to partner with a bank, Christodoulou and Dulay are working to expand Cyder from being a desktop-only application by creating a standalone mobile app. They challenged the students to recommend features for the new mobile platform while still meeting the privacy requirements. The student teams were also tasked with building a demo app and creating a user adoption strategy focused on how the bank can maximize the number of customers who use Cyder.

“Our goals were for the students to adhere to the security, ease-of-use, and data ownership features while also providing information that the financial institution could see value in,” said Christodoulou. “They all did a pretty good job and many came up with the same ideas we had. There were also some novel ideas that we will either integrate into the initial build of the product or into the grand vision for more growth and opportunity.”

Networking with data professionals

Both Christodoulou and Dulay as well as other professionals judged the presentations and mentored the students during the hackathon. Christodoulou said he and Dulay wanted to get involved to both gain fresh ideas from a diverse group of people and give back to the School by offering the students the opportunity to network with professionals. In addition to networking, the students participated in workshops from Google and Western’s CodeAcademy.

“When we were students, there weren’t many opportunities to integrate business and tech skills for a real-use case. We wanted to provide a real-world example,” said Christodoulou.

Bridging the gap between business and tech

That integration of business and tech skills was exactly what Racharla and Naz had in mind when envisioning the event. Racharla has a finance background but has been learning computer science concepts on his own and participating in hackathons at other universities. Seeing that business students didn’t have many opportunities to apply technical concepts, he came up with the idea for IveyHacks to bridge that gap.

“It was a full-circle moment for me to go from being a hackathon attendee and then a mentor at HackWestern to co-founding a hackathon. It was great to pitch an idea and then see it come to life,” he said.

Naz, who knows Racharla from their time working together as Co-Leads of the Ivey MSc Product Management Club, is a software engineer and previously worked at Deloitte before coming to Ivey. She said she saw the disconnect between individuals with business knowledge and those with technical knowledge in the workplace and wanted to co-organize the hackathon to give students from both areas the opportunity to interact.

“Communication is a very important aspect between developers and managers so we wanted to give business students and computer science students a chance to learn how to communicate with each other before they enter the workplace,” she said. “I saw that happen during the hackathon and I was impressed by the student teams’ work.”

Racharla said he hopes there will be more hackathons in the program, particularly ones where there are multiple cases used so students can pick their challenge.

Exposing students to the new world of work

Warren Ritchie, an assistant professor of information systems and strategy, was the faculty lead for the event and one of the finalist judges. He said the MSc Program endorsed the event and co-sponsored it with Cyder because it provided an opportunity for students to get a realistic preview of what it’s like to build commercial value in the digital space. Ritchie said the challenge both exposed the students to a new wave of consumerism that is privacy-based and part of the new world of work, and allowed them to contribute to an initiative for the long-term betterment of society.

“The MSc Program is an experience-oriented program. We strive to create experiences in a simulated environment that are very close to the experiences students will be engaged in once they emerge to make them better prepared for their careers,” he said. “It was also important because the students worked on cross-functional teams. We value the diversity in teams because we believe it produces more creative work.”

Ritchie, who will take over as Faculty Director of the MSc Program in July, said the program will try to incorporate a similar type of experience for the Digital Management students moving forward.

Thank you to the judges

Guest judges: Will Christodoulou, MSc ’19, Co-Founder, Cyder; Sukhman Dulay, MSc ’19, Co-Founder, Cyder; Rinky Deol, Senior Brand Strategist, McCann Canada; Jathu Satkunarajah, Software Engineer, Facebook, and Rushmi, Rogers client.

Ivey judges: Kyle Maclean, HBA ’12, PhD ’17; Lameck Osinde; Warren Ritchie; and Hayri Tongarlak.

Congratulations to the winners

First place: Wesley Hackl, Jensen Medeiros, Lilian Quaye, Ajveer Tiwana, Nevil Wang, and Leon Zhu– $300 each

Second place: Johann Cardenas, Ahmed El Gallad, Dalton King, Syed Faseeh Hayder Naqvi, Zachary Ongaro, and Namrata Raina – $150 each

Third place: Prabhanshu Aggarwal, Joyce Ding, Kyle Edmonds, Can Jiang, Anyang Liu, Navjeeven Mann, and Jingwen Tan – $75 each

IveyHacks winning teams