Four tertiary institutions competed in a coding competition as part of an event dubbed, Belize Hackathon 2014: Unlocking ICT Innovation. It may sound a bit complicated for the not so technologically savvy but what it simply means is that students from the University of Belize, Galen University, Centro Escolar Mexico Junior College and St. John’s College Junior College were tasked to develop an phone application, particularly for tourists, that will provide them with the schedule of the various modes of transportation available in Belize. Hero Balani of Belize Telemedia Limited laid it out for us this morning when Love News visited the ITVET for today’s program.
“The nature of the problem that these kids were looking at solving this weekend is transport. When a tourist comes to Belize they’re often not familiar with our transport system, so what we’re doing is trying to find a mobile application solution to help make their lives a bit easier. We as Belizeans, we know where to get the water taxi; we know where to go to get the local flights, international flights and also the bus system but we want to help make those frequently asked questions for a tourist more easier. So we gave the students that problem and today we’ll see what they came up with. The theme this year for the Belize Hackathon is, “Mobile Application Design and Development” and again as you saw in that presentation from our US consultant from Wal-Mart and Proctor and Gamble, it is moving the world and the way technology is going in the world, everyone has a smart phone; you saw it in the photo right? Everyone pulls out their smartphone, even in Belize, it’s a necessity now. So we thought again to make this year’s theme centered on mobile application and hopefully next year we can do a different theme or we can do the same. The winning team today will go home with some fabulous prizes from our sponsors including three tablets, cash prizes as well as $200 each and they get the opportunity to work over the summer to fully develop and launch the application with the receiving organization which is the Belize Tourism Board. One of the most important factors in IT outsourcing or providing IT services to any market globally is speed, efficiency and accuracy. So what we’re doing is we gave them a problem on Friday at 2:00 pm like you rightfully said. They had up until Sunday to submit their solutions and today they are presenting, but as you can see the energy is high, the students are sleepless and they’ve been working at it all weekend but it shows the dedication that they have to ICT and innovation. The hope is that it will actually be used and I can tell you myself, when I have to look up the water taxi schedule, I have to go online on the website, it would be nice to have an application that has all of that and just tell it where I’m going and I can pull up the water taxi schedules, the times for the different buses, the express system, even the local flights, if I want to know what time a Maya Island Air flight is leaving Belize City for Placencia, I can have all of that readily available at my fingertips with the mobile application. So that is the hope and I am pretty sure that is going to happen from what I see here today.“
The event, which is being sponsored by the Beltraide, Belize Tourism Board, Belize Telemedia Limited and the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology had as its keynote speaker, a Belizean businessman, who works as the Associate Director for Procter and Gamble in the United States, David Ahuja. Ahuja spoke to the media today to explain what led him to this initiative and the ideas he believes Belize can easily adopt as it pertains to technology.
“I’ve been coming to Belize for seven years and bringing laptop computers, putting them into the villages up in Corozal and it became very clear to me that we need to focus much more on creating a kind of commerce in addition of putting computers into the schools and that led to us looking into how technology is playing a role in the country. What’s very clear is that the call centers have taken off but there’s a big white space opportunity to put Belizeans to work in the outsourcing space of IT, which means that smart Belizeans using their technology skills, we’re graduating tons of students from all the colleges with degrees in information systems or IT; we need them working not just for Belize but working for companies around the world and that started me down the path on how do we create a place where our technology or people in the space we can pull them out if you will. So the Hackathon idea was, if we did a Hackathon we would attract a lot bright people with IT talent to come do the Hackathon. We would get to meet them and would start to really get a sense of the skill sets that they have in Belize. I spent a week with BELTRAIDE touring the country, and talking to all of the education institution and talking as well with BTL and the folks in the ministry. It is a huge inhibiting factor; there are two factors that I think that Belize needs to focus on: one is greater penetration of the internet, so I was told that it was around 15%. The issue there is, the low penetration leads to high cost so people can’t afford to get the internet and it’s this vicious circle, so somehow we need to figure out how to get greater penetration and allow for the cost to go down which will allow for younger people in primary school to have access at home and be able to do more. The second inhibiting factor is that the country needs to establish some really strong policies on IP (Intellectual Property) and being able to set companies and give them a sense of confidence in their information, their data when they come down here and do businesses will be protected. Every country needs some very strong security policy and I think that’s something that the ministry’s talked about , they’re aware of that but that’s going to be a critical element to get companies, big companies to come do business down here.“
The four schools were given the concept for the application on Friday, June 13 at 2pm and had up until yesterday to make submissions. This afternoon, judges had a working luncheon where the apps were reviewed and rated with a focus on several areas including creativity, innovation and technical skills. Just before three o’clock, Balani announced that they have made a last minute decision to announce a division in categories meaning that it had boiled down to UB vs Galen and Escoler Mexico vs SJCJC. In the end St. John’s Junior College came out on top while UB won the grand prize. We spoke to the UB team this afternoon to find out more about the work they put in and the end product that they presented to the judges.
LOTS OF PHOTOS HERE