The Mapletree Challenge: Students tackling sustainability through innovation

Photo credit: SIT

by Lydia Tan

Sustainability is a common buzzword that has been making waves lately, with organisations realising the importance of not just implementing environmentally-conscious initiatives, but making sure they are still effective for the long term. The Mapletree Challenge — an industry-supported, holistic student development programme at Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) — aims to achieve just that.

The seven-month-long inaugural Challenge (Oct 2018 – May 2019) involved job interview and presentation masterclasses that honed the students’ job interview skills and personal brand, as well as a panel discussion and coaching sessions on innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Challenge drew a total of 24 teams from SIT, which were then narrowed down to 12 semi-finalists and finally six finalists, who had about a month to nail down their final pitches, receiving individual mentorship masterclasses to further sharpen their entrepreneurial ideas, persuasive pitching and presentation skills.

During the Grand Final, which took place on 2 May 2019, the six finalists had to give a presentation to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges comprising faculty members and senior management of SIT and Mapletree Investments. Upon voting from both judges and members of the audience, Team Trolley emerged as champions, winning the top prize of $5,000 in cash.

Sustainable healthcare through design

We spoke with Team Trolley — comprising SIT-University of Glasgow BSc (Hons) in Nursing programme Year 1 students Abdul Rafi, Kang Xun, Joanne Chua, Lui Zhi Ting, Ang Zi Qing, Koh Thong Wu and Tan Hong Da — to get more insight into the creation of their winning idea.

Team Trolley: (from L–R) Abdul Rafi Bin Abdul Rahim, Kang Xun, Chua Wen Ling Joanne, Lui Zhi Ting, Ang Zi Qing, Tan Hong Da, Koh Thong Wu
Photo credit: SIT

Their innovation was a modular laundry trolley for nurses to use when cleaning and changing elderly patients’ soiled diapers and bedsheets. Their design consists of colour-coded bags to keep clean and dirty laundry separate, and labelled segments with removable panels for easy cleaning. The trolley is proposed to be made using copper alloy, which is durable, has antimicrobial properties and can be safely cleaned with most commercial disinfectants.

The team’s modular trolley mock-up
Screenshot credit: Team Trolley (SIT)
The team’s idea for using colour-coded laundry bags
Screenshot credit: Team Trolley (SIT)

During the team’s work attachment at a nursing home as part of their curriculum, they noticed that the trolleys were cluttered and nurses were sometimes confused as to where to dispose soiled laundry, resulting in bacterial growth from dirty linen left lying around. That inspired the team to create a trolley that not only allowed nurses to work more efficiently, but also enabled them to be more sanitary, cost-efficient and organised.

The current trolleys used at the nursing home
Screenshot credit: Team Trolley (SIT)

Team leader Joanne explained that this idea started as a project on innovation for one of their modules in school. “We realised that the [redesigned] trolley could actually help [the nursing home], so we brought this idea into The Mapletree Challenge”.

Joanne said that the whole experience during the Challenge has been very memorable, and the team had learned a lot about pitching and selling their idea. “We came in this [competition] with just an idea of ‘Oh, it’s just about innovation’, but as we proceeded, we realised that ‘Hey, we have to learn to pitch this idea’ and that was the difficult part for all of us”. The team benefited greatly from their industry mentor Mr. Zach Wilson, Managing Director of AlfaTech, who helped them make their presentation more persuasive and relatable.

The team hopes that their idea can be used in the market and that one day, they can pitch it to investors. Joanne and the team will be looking to integrate technology into their design to further enhance it, and incorporate the feedback received from the judges.

Other innovations by the finalists

Rounding out the top three winners were runner-up FX1, whose app called hotelrev teaches students the concepts of hotel revenue management through new technologies such as simulations, and second runner-up JNL, whose automated digital system plans to revolutionise the pen-and-paper processes of local companies. The teams won $3,000 and $2,000 in cash prizes respectively.

Overview of runner-up FX1’s app hotelrev that teaches hotel revenue management concepts
Screenshot credit: FX1 (SIT)
Overview of second runner-up JNL’s automated digital system to replace paper receipts
Screenshot credit: JNL (SIT)

The top three teams will be given support in prototyping their innovations, bringing them one step closer to turning their ideas into a reality.

Other innovative solutions from the finalists include Jim Ng’s, a moderated crowd-sourced online community for relationship advice; YARJ Green Asphalt by YARJ Green Insight, an environmentally-friendly method that incorporates waste rubber tires (crumb rubber) into bituminous pavements; and ScootMe! by Scooter Power, a cost-efficient scooter powered through pedalling. Each team went home with a consolation prize of $1,000.

As the world’s resources are decreasing and the need for creating sustainable options becomes more pressing, it is up to the youth of our generation to make that happen.  Initiatives like The Mapletree Challenge are great platforms to encourage students to come up with new creative ideas to innovate and create long-term solutions that can benefit our society.