Student Innovators Take on Major Water Challenges at Xylem Ignite Hackathon

Student Innovators Take on Major Water Challenges at Xylem Ignite Hackathon

Xylem Ignite is a global youth initiative focused on building a strong network of passionate student leaders and empower them to drive real changes in the water industry. The program is part of Xylem’s commitment to inspiring and igniting the next generation of water innovators and advocates by creating opportunities to bring their talent and energy to solving water challenges.

Making Waves spoke with Scott Cronson, Sr. Business Automation Engineer and North America lead of Ignite Hackathon, about one of Xylem Ignite’s key initiatives – the hackathon program.

Q: Tell us about Xylem Ignite’s hackathon initiative and how it’s engaging students around solving water.

A: In 2021, Xylem Ignite will hold eight hackathons, registering more than 650 students. The hackathons offer the chance for students to come together, share ideas and build software and hardware hacks during a specific amount of time, generally over two days, responding to a given problem statement. By participating in a hackathon, students have the opportunity to engage in solving real-world water challenges, interact with water sector professionals, and inspire the water industry with their bold ideas to address water-related issues. 

Q: This year, Xylem Ignite teamed with a number of leading organizations to host its second annual hackathon at the Xylem Reach Conference. What challenges did the students take on?

A: We were thrilled to hold our second Xylem Reach hackathon at the Xylem Reach Conference, which brings together more than 1,200 utility professionals, industry analysts and consultants from across the water, gas and electric utilities sectors. This year, we were very excited to partner with a variety of leading organizations = to help make this event a success. MIT Water Club, Engineers without Borders, Cleveland Water Alliance, and ESRI all sponsored the event in some capacity, either by submitting a problem statement, participating on our judging panel, and/or providing exclusive vouchers for students to explore integrating new technologies in their solutions.

Students aged 13-25 were invited to participate. More than 250 students from 25+ countries answered the call and took on the following problem statements from our sponsors:

  • Cleveland Water Alliance – Explore improvements to CWA’s citizen science program focused on standardizing data collection, aggregating data to produce actionable insights, and enhanced visualizations/analytics
  • MIT Water Club – Brainstorm how to efficiently collect and analyze flooding-related data
  • Engineers Without Borders – Problem-solve how to effectively deploy maintenance personnel to – and increase usage of – Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene facilities in developing countries.
  • Disaster Response – Explore how to build out an interactive platform where life-saving predictions, guidance, and updates could be accessed and shared within seconds to respond to extreme weather events.

Q: Can you share some of the biggest highlights from this year’s event?

A: What I found most exciting about this years Xylem Reach Hackathon was two-fold: 1. The particular focus around water and sustainability and 2. The extensive learning opportunities and resources we had for students throughout the event.

The problem statements directly addressed a variety of pressing global water issues, from validating flood models, to reducing watershed pollution from nutrient runoff, to creating a disaster response platform for extreme weather events.

Although the problem statements were the primary focus of the event, many complimentary webinars, resources, and Xylem Watermark events were hosted throughout the four days. (Xylem Watermark is Xylem’s corporate social responsibility program.) A sustainability webinar provided an overview of water challenges and how we’re thinking about them, innovating and taking action to help create a more sustainable world. There were also demonstrations on advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, and how they’re being used to drive innovation in the water sector. Xylem colleagues joined a career panel to share insights on discovering passions and ideating a career path while in school. And students engaged in daily challenges (such as starting a compost pile at home or going plogging in their community) as a break to get up from their computer and make an impact in their community! 

Additionally, the event was fully virtual so students from any school globally could participate! All events were recorded and available on replay and mentors from Xylem joined from all time zones so resources were always available.

Q: And now, the drum roll, can you share the winners and talk about their innovative approaches to solving water challenges?

Homer1.jpgA: Absolutely! My favorite part from the whole event was having the privilege to review all the submissions so I can glimpse at the creative and innovative ideas that students produce, which continually amazes me! At the high school level of the competition, the winning project was called Aware Together, submitted by Homer Riva-Cambrin, from Alberta, Canada. Gaining inspiration from productivity software, Homer created a solution that integrates data from a variety of sources into a comprehensive disaster response platform. API connections to local traffic cameras, air quality indices, crowdsourced updates and discussion feeds, and live updates from news agencies are all components of this comprehensive system designed to provide practical advice in times of crisis.

"I thought it was really interesting to be able to work on these problem statements that are real issues. Being presented by the companies that regularly face these challenges and having them available as a resource was super impactful."

- Homer Riva-Cambrin (1st place HS winner, Canada)

2nd place was a rock star team of Kate Alexandra N. Austria, Sofia P. Bartolo, Micaela Denise G. Domingo, and Bienn Mishael M. Usi from Philippines. 3rd place was awarded to two young innovators from the UK.

At the university level, the winning team, called Swift Beacon, came from Malaysia and was developed by Yudhishthra Sugumaran, Lee Hau Jun, Chung Wei Qi, and Chua E Heng. The group created a one-stop platform that bridges the gap between flood mitigation awareness and swift mitigation procedures. This solution utilizes historical data to inform residents of the probability of future floods, presents a curated info blog of relevant resources for users, and contains a response agency dashboard to effectively deploy manpower, among other features.


“Because of how near the impact of flooding is to our daily lives, we can empathize with the residents that have to suffer floods on a daily basis. They are people with problems, not just data points, and they needed help. That is why we decided to focus on creating a platform to fix what has gone wrong.”

- Yudhishthra Sugumaran (1st place University winner, Malaysia)

The dynamic duo of Minkyung Chung from USA and Sandeep S. Nair from India took home 2nd place while 3rd place went to Ahelee Bhattacharya, Ashwin Kumar Uppala, and Aditya Arpan Sahoo from India partnering with Bailey Luu from Canada.

We’re so proud and excited for this year’s winners and for all of the bold student innovators who participated. They are the future of water and will help shape the next generation of water and sustainability technologies and solutions. Let’s solve water! 

Learn more about Xylem Ignite.