Ideas to paint roofs white to reduce heat and collecting and distributing rainwater shared top honours at a student-led brainstorm session at UNSW at the weekend.

The Health and Houses Hack was organised by UNSW Entrepreneurship and hosted by the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre (MCIC) in partnership with the Faculty of Built Environment’s Judith Neilson Chair and the Yunus Social Business Health Hub.

It brought together 50 UNSW students from across the University to develop, design and pitch their ideas for improving living conditions in one of the poorest areas of Bangladesh.

The densely populated Korail slum in Dhaka experiences frequent fires due to improper gas and electrical connections. Residents have attempted to limit the spread of fires by building their houses with tin sheets, but this has health and hygiene ramifications, and the dwellings suffer from overheating and a lack of ventilation.

Over 2 ½ days the students worked tirelessly with their mentors to generate and develop ideas to help solve this real-world problem.

The judging panel, drawn from industry professionals and staff from MCIC and Yunus Social Business Health Hub, named Team Paani Phool (Water Flower) and Team Sky High as joint winners, based on the quality of their solutions and how easy they would be to implement. The two teams, both of whom had members from Dhaka itself, will share the $4000 prize money.

One of the judges, David Sanderson, the Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture in UNSW Built Environment, said these two simple applications could have great impact on the lives of those living in Korail.

“We had 10 excellent pitches from talented teams, each one of which took a unique approach, emphasising creativity and innovation,” Sanderson said.

“Those that did best were the ones that embraced the complexity of the issues and did not assume a simple ‘quick-fix’; rather an engagement that put people themselves in the driving seats.”

Paani Phool team member Wyatt Ng encouraged other students to participate in future hacks.

“You’ll learn how to form a team, identify a problem, build a solution, criticise its feasibility and create a realistic business model,” he said.

“These are all part of the ‘must learn’ lessons for all students either pursuing a business career or forming a start-up company regardless of your academic background.”

The winning pitches will  inform a project currently underway in Korail, involving FBE, which is supporting neighbourhood groups to develop innovative ways to improve health and housing. More on this can be found at: https://startnetwork.org/depp-innovation-labs

Hacks aim to inspire and prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s most critical challenges.