ShiftKey Labs, the Nova Scotia post-secondary sandbox focusing on digital technologies, is planning a “virtual hackathon” to find tech solutions to social problems created by the Covid-19 crisis.

The group has hosted several hackathons in the past year, and they have even resulted in the creation of startups. But it had to postpone a few other events – including a hackathon focusing on the problems faced by the news media – because of the Covid-19 emergency.

Now it is planning a virtual hackathon, with participants joining the work from remote locations, to let tech enthusiasts spend a weekend collaborating on projects without violating the current self-isolation rules. The event is scheduled for May 4 to 5.

ShiftKey Labs is one of nine “sandboxes” sponsored by the Nova Scotia government. These are collaborative projects involving groups of post-secondary institutions, which aim to encourage entrepreneurship in certain fields. ShiftKey – which is a joint project between Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, and Mount St. Vincent universities, and the Nova Scotia Community College – targets digital technologies as the focus of its work.

“From September on, Shiftkey Labs has held more than 81 events,” said Akram Al-Otumi, who joined ShiftKey as its manager last summer. “We’ve partnered with 46 organizations. Over 3,200 people have attended our hackathons, which produced 57 business ideas and resulted in four registered businesses.”

The hackathons so far have included a healthcare hackathon, in which teams produced products that would improve healthcare, such as reducing wait time in hospitals, and a government hackathon, which involved participants from three levels of government.

The companies that resulted from the hackathons include Drop the Shop, which won the Diversity and inclusion hackathon in February. The company’s voice-activated digital solution helps people arrange deliveries from supermarkets, focusing on people with disabilities. Its co-founders built the prototype during the hackathon and have since applied to be resident company at ShiftKey Labs.

Now Al-Otumi is planning a virtual hackathon that will try to solve the social challenges created by the current coronavirus crisis. These may include overcoming loneliness due to social isolation, creating mobile app thermometers, or combatting fake news, to name a few.