News | Jan 6, 2020 | By Sumeep Bath, Communications Manager

Get Ready to Hack Lake Winnipeg

Hackers, start your engines.

We are challenging students, water researchers, developers, designers, scientists, programmers, engineers, technology enthusiasts and entrepreneurs to show us what they’re made of and save one of Canada’s most beloved lakes with our  2020 Lake Winnipeg AquaHacking Challenge!


AquaHacking is an exciting new tech competition where young innovators across Canada team up to develop new and innovative solutions to tackle urgent freshwater issues.

Meet water sector experts. Work on the tech. Start your business. Be part of the change.

First things first, what is Aquahacking?

AquaHacking is a start-up competition designed to support technology and business development addressing environmental problems related to fresh water. Launched by the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, the AquaHacking Challenge has been running in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region since 2015 resulting in 18 new start-ups.

This year, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)—an independent think tank home to world-class experts in freshwater science and policy—is hosting one of three regional AquaHacking initiatives which will focus on Lake Winnipeg and its watershed.

Between January and October 2020, AquaHacking will challenge students and young professionals to team up and develop innovative solutions to problems plaguing the Lake Winnipeg watershed, such as algal blooms, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

With guidance and support from expert mentors in water, tech, and business, the multidisciplinary teams will compete to win $50,000 in cash prizes and incubator space.

So, how does it work?

AquaHacking will provide young innovators all the support and mentorship solutions to develop sustainable solutions for Lake Winnipeg. We want to create solutions that have a viable market and answer a genuine need.

We therefore engage with key stakeholders, such as environmental NGOs and water experts, to define the water issues and ensure the solutions developed are directly connected to implementing agencies and will have measurable results.

Lake Winnipeg shoreline with a boulder
AquaHacking will challenge students and young professionals to team up and develop innovative solutions to problems plaguing the Lake Winnipeg watershed, such as algal blooms, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

The Challenge kicks off by providing all participants with webinars led by experts in the field outlining the science, relevant data and end-users for each water issue. Throughout the challenge, teams have access to a variety of workshops and resources, as well as a dedicated group of mentors to help them develop their solutions and refine their pitches. The top five teams will be determined at the AquaHacking semi-final in June 2020 after which they will continue working on their solutions and go on a team-building expedition to IISD Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario.

The winning team will then be announced at the Dragon’s Den-style final in October 2020 in Winnipeg.

What are the challenges?

There are five main challenges focused on five of the major opportunities to improve the health of Lake Winnipeg.

Water and Land Management

How can we provide agricultural producers with cost-effective solutions for water and land management? Learn more here.

Fish Health

How can we better assess fish health and populations without having to kill them? Learn more here.


How can we keep plastics out of Lake Winnipeg? Learn more here.

Drinking Water

How can we ensure that remote, northern communities have access to clean drinking water? Learn more here.

Watershed Investment

How can we create systems that make it easy for people to invest in the health of Lake Winnipeg? Learn more here.

Who can participate?

Anyone 18 or older (or under 18 with written consent from their parent/legal guardian) is welcome!

We’re looking for committed and creative minds, whatever their field of expertise, but especially students, water researchers, developers, designers, scientists, programmers, engineers, technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and people who want to save Lake Winnipeg. 

And you don’t have to live in Manitoba—we welcome entrants from the prairies and beyond.

Participants may register with a team or as free agents. All teams must have a minimum of 2 people (there is no maximum).

Free agents can team up with other hackers through the Matchmaking tool on the registration platform to find team members with the skill sets and interests you need. A Slack channel will also be available to registrants to help you find team members.

The more multi-disciplinary your team is, the more likely you will be successful. We recommend having some or all of the following skills represented by your team members: water science, engineering, programming, sustainable development, data analysis and marketing. 

It’s free to register, and teams can participate virtually up until the semi-final. If you’d like to participate in person at the semi-final but the costs are prohibitive, find out if your school or employer offers any travel grants, or contact us and we’ll see what we can do to help!

Other registration criteria include:

  • Proposed solutions must never have been previously published, exhibited publicly, commercialized, or submitted in any hackathon, exhibition, or similar competition, contest or event.
  • All proprietary code used in the proposed solutions must be developed during the Challenge period, though we welcome teams who have previously started work on design, wireframes or mock-ups.
  • Teams can participate in person or virtually for the bulk of the Challenge, but representatives from each team must be physically present for both the Expedition and Final (travel costs will be covered).
Woman wearing lanyard speaking to another woman in a blue top with back to camera
The winning team will then be announced at the Dragon’s Den-style final in October 2020 in Winnipeg.

What can you win?

1st Place: $20,000

2nd Place: $15,000

3rd Place: $10,000

4th and 5th places: $2,500

Each of the top five teams also wins a spot at a local business incubator to continue developing their solutions!

What are the key dates?

  • November 22, 2019:  Informational webinar for post-secondary faculty & staff.
  • January 6, 2020: Registration opens; info sessions start for potential participants and continue into February.
  • January 31, 2020: We officially launch the 2020 AquaHacking Lake Winnipeg Challenge at the DisruptED Future conference in Winnipeg.
  • February-May 2020: Teams select the water issue they want to solve and begin work on their solutions with the support of expert mentors and skill-building workshops.
  • June 2020: The hacker teams present their solutions in a science-fair style expo at the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) 2020 conference in Winnipeg, MB. Judges score each solution and the top 5 teams are selected.
  • July – October 2020: Teams continue to refine their solutions and develop their pitches with the support of mentors and water experts.
  • August 2020: The top 5 teams go on a team-building expedition to Lake Winnipeg and IISD Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario.
  • October 2020: The top 5 teams present their pitches to a panel of expert judges and the winners of the 2020 Challenge are announced!

Why does the Lake Winnipeg watershed matter?

Lake Winnipeg is no small fish.

It is the 11th largest lake in the world — and sixth largest in Canada—and provides homes, sustenance and recreation for millions.

Its watershed spans four Canadian provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario) and three U.S. states (North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota). That watershed is nearly 1,000,000 km2 and is home to more than seven million people.

What are the major issues threatening Lake Winnipeg today?

Lake Winnipeg often suffers from algal blooms—those green, sticky layers you sometimes see on lakes—especially during the summer, which are caused by too much phosphorus leaching into the lake and its watershed. There are also many other emerging pollutants and contaminants, such as microplastics, that enter that watershed—many of which we still don’t fully understand.

It is also subject to invasive species, such as zebra mussels, that impact the lake’s health and can clog up its infrastructure.  

And, like all freshwater lakes across the globe, Lake Winnipeg continues to experience the ever-intensifying impacts of climate change and the resulting declining water levels.

How can I find out more information or enter?

If you need more information, you can take a look at the 2020 Lake Winnipeg AquaHacking Challenge website, or you can contact Catherine van Reenen, AquaHacking Project Coordinator, IISD at [email protected]

If you’re already to register for the challenge, you can do so here.

We are also hosting in-person information sessions for anyone who is interested in finding out more. See the upcoming sessions below and email [email protected] if you have any questions.

University of Manitoba

Date: Thursday, January 23

Time: 2:30–3:30 p.m.

Place: Robert B. Schultz Lecture Theatre, St. John’s College

University of Saskatchewan

Date: Wednesday, February 5

Time: 12:30–1:30 p.m.

Place: Arts Building, Room Arts 109

University of Winnipeg

Date: Thursday, February 13

Time: 3:30–5:00 p.m.

Place: Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex (RCFE), Atrium

Assiniboine Community College

Date: Friday, February 14

Time: One session at 11:30 a.m. and one session at 12:30 p.m.

Place: Room 428, Main Campus

Brandon University

Date: Tuesday, February 25

Time: 12:40–1:30 p.m.

Place: Room 4-47 in the Brodie Science Centre

Red River College Exchange District Campus

Date: Monday, March 9

Time: 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Place: Room P107, 160 Princess Street

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