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Tech-smart McGill students scoop Quebec business prize

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'Four young guys with nothing to lose' will pour winnings into online coursebook venture

A team of students from McGill are $2,500 richer and ready to plunge into the business world after winning in the university category of the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest. They are ready to launch an ambitious plan to make education more digital and to change the way students hit the books.

The scheme centres on looking at alternative electronic versions to bulky course packs familiar to every student. Students will be able to access e-book and e-journal content related to their studies — any time, any place, any pace. The team also plan to supply a slew of add-ons such as highlighting and translation tools that will let students study more efficiently.

"The vision began with my own experience as a student using course packs," said Denis Gikunda, a software engineering student at McGill. "I realized that there were so many opportunities to incorporate advanced learning materials with the course reading, allowing students to save both time and money."

The vision took flight in a technology class, where teams were called on to create a business plan. Gikunda and his partners soon realized that their project had potential far beyond a class assignment and so they decided to take a hard look at its feasibility as a real-life venture. During their research, they were surprised to discover that their university library was purchasing extensive holdings of journals and books online. This meant that it would be possible for students to access materials needed for study by computer any time they wished.

"We talked to the libraries and conducted polls with hundreds of students, and we soon realized everyone was behind the idea," said Alex Ouimet-Storrs, a master's student in Chemical Engineering. "And we really clicked as a group, so we decided to go forward with this. We're four young guys with nothing to lose, and we've come up with a solution that's by students for students."

With a chunk of change in their pockets, go forward they will. They are preparing to wrap up their R&D work in the coming months and to move into the venture capital phase of the project. The team have also set their sights on next January to roll out their first prototype. In the meantime, they plan to draw on their recent award to keep them going. The prize consisted of $500 for making the short list for the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest, and another $2,000 that came last week after they beat out 18 other university entries.

The other contributors to the winning McGill team are Renato Rispoli and Ken Lu, both of whom are undergraduate students in engineering.

More about the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest
Since its creation seven years ago, the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest has come to be recognized as the biggest contest of its kind in Quebec. It is designed to promote the development of entrepreneurship in Quebec by rewarding student entrepreneurship as well as business creation. With this goal in mind, the contest seeks the involvement of representatives from the world of education, the business community and community organizations. It is open to all residents of Quebec.

About McGill University
McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university and has earned an international reputation for scholarly achievement and scientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools which offer more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renowned professors and researchers from around the world and top students from more than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverse education environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. It is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill's two campuses are located in Montreal, Canada.