Student profile: CISCO Switch Up Challenge
A team of five students from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science recently won the CISCO Switch Up Challenge. Kapil Dipak Narshidas Pau, Yusuf Pholby, Harriydaran Rajendran, Aathishankar Thayanantha and Prodige Tukala, who are all studying computer science degrees, earned themselves a trip to the CISCO headquarters in California this summer. We caught up with Kapil and Yusuf to talk about how they become involved with the competition and why they think their idea had the winning formula.
Could you tell us what the CISCO Switch Up Challenge is all about?
The Internet of Things was the main topic behind the project. This is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. We had to compete with other teams to come up with an idea that would help to tackle a social or environmental issue by solving a specific problem. We started by having to submit our concept along with a business strategy and a marketing strategy, and then the judges shortlisted the teams for the final from that. We then had to present our idea and say why we believe ours was the best economically and in terms of benefit gained for our target market.
How did you become involved with the event?
The whole team are currently applying for placements for next year, and the people who run the placement scheme within our department got in touch with students via email to advertise the Switch Up Challenge. The competition is run by CISCO, which is a worldwide leader in IT solutions, and the winner would get a trip to their home state, California. At the start, we only really wanted to see what we could come up with in terms of ideas as a group, and when we thought we had a good concept we decided to pursue it.
What was the inspiration behind your winning idea?
We are all computer science students and that usually involves a lot of sitting down at a desk and being stationary for long periods. This can obviously lead to back problems like muscle strain. We also have family members who suffer from similar problems, and we understood that posture had a big part to play in this. We identified that finding a solution to this issue could have massive potential.
Do you think your idea has the potential to be introduced in the near future?
We hope so! We’re currently in the process of working out how we can bring it to market. In our development plan, we realised that it would take a year to develop, but unfortunately we have neither the time nor resources at the moment. Hopefully in a few years when we’ve graduated and have some money to spend then we can start looking into developing.
Why do you think your idea was chosen as the winner among all the others?
I think the biggest thing was the potential. There were other groups who had good ideas too, but the judges were specifically talking about where our idea could be taken in the future, as they saw the potential for use in areas such as within the NHS. Our presentation skills had a big part to play too, and our group performed admirably compared to everybody else. We think these two factors influenced the judges to choose our idea as the winner among the others.
It must have been a great opportunity to take part – what did you learn from the experience?
Quite a lot! We learnt a lot about how to work with your friends in a team. Because we are all course mates, we are good friends outside of the project too. We did get quite distracted from time to time, and one day we were in a room for twelve hours straight trying to work it all out. We also learnt a lot about the process of coming up with ideas and how you develop them into a viable product. Pitching was also a big skill we developed during the process since this was the biggest part of the final round. The judges had already seen our ideas and our business plans, but the pitch was our final chance to demonstrate our idea as best as we could, and convince the judges that our idea was worthy of the top prize. We also learnt a bit about the process of initial concept development and how much it changes from the initial idea to pitching, and we imagine it will change massively if we were to bring it to market as well.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking of taking part in the challenge next year?
Just do it! To be honest, the hardest part is coming up with the idea. If you have somebody who’s good at coming up with ideas on the team then that always makes things easier. It’s also important to choose the right problem to tackle, because everyone will have an idea but you have to understand why your idea stands out. Feasibility is also important. There were some solid ideas at the final, but there were also many ideas that hadn’t been thought through enough in terms of the negative aspects and practicalities – and how many people would actually use your product. It always helps to have an independent person look over your idea before you submit it so they can give you advice on what they think works and potentially identify pitfalls that you hadn’t thought of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or support from people with more experience or knowledge. We asked one of the School of Engineering and Materials Science lecturers to take apart our idea technically and give us some advice on prototyping and next steps. This helped us a lot since none of us are engineers!
Where do you hope to take this in the future?
Our long-term goal would be to bring the product to market and potentially start our own company on the back of this. As already mentioned, we are limited in terms of resource at the moment, and starting a company is no easy feat. Once we are in a better position after university then we will try to take this further.