It is often said that ideas are easy, implementation is hard. This is why hackathons (hack + marathon) are effective as proving grounds of ideas that encourage participants to take risks that they would normally avoid. Hackathons stimulate the creative juices of participants, and the unique environment facilitates the development of fresh ideas aimed to tackle real world problems. Hence, it is easy to see why the culture of innovation in hackathons goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship and business startups.

As one of the founders of IEEE USM Student Branch, Simon Yeoh believes that university and college students are the best target audience for startup initiatives simply because they are the most energetic and creative at this stage of life. But perhaps the most crucial factor of all is that these students are less likely to be deterred by failure, thus making them the ideal candidates to embrace risks and opportunities.

Simon Yeoh, Co-Founder of IEEE USM Student Branch

Such a basis has led – together with the thirst to drive change in the community – to the founding of IEEE USM Student Branch and Together, we strive to foster startup communities in universities and colleges by educating, raising awareness and providing guidance for aspiring young entrepreneurs. We intend to bridge the gap between startup-related initiatives in the public and tertiary students, who would usually find the content hard to swallow. A shocking survey discovered that many students – even those majoring in business administration – lack awareness in the Malaysian startup ecosystem. Their ears are usually unaccustomed to topics like Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), accelerator programmes, and startup business models. We strive to change that fact.

Thus, on the 18th and 19th of February, IEEE USM Student Branch together with MaGIC and Cyberview Sdn. Bhd. under the organisation of and the initiative of Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MOSTI) made the University App Challenge (UAC) a reality.

University App Challenge underway at USM

The event gathered a total of 115 participants from seven universities across Malaysia to the main campus of its host venue USM on the beautiful island of Penang. The seven universities included USM’s engineering campus, USM’s main campus, University of Malaya, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Malaysia Perlis, Penang SEGI College and Penang Wawasan Open University.

With a goal of encouraging local university students to explore the world of technology, innovation, and creativity through working with like-minded youths in a fun and competitive environment, the challenge was set out from the start to be a success.

Hopeful participants arrived at the hall bright and early at nine o’clock ready to go through scheduled pitching, validation and the building of web/mobile applications with the guidance of expert mentors. The first day of the 48-hour challenge focused primarily on a boot camp for all of the participants before they were divided up into groups. In this way, everyone received equal exposure to the information and experiences shared by the line of mentors.

The idea pitching session

UAC in full swing

The final pitching session

UAC champion team Artic Blaze certainly did not experience any form of brain freeze throughout the challenge as they managed to win the hearts of the judges with Shop N’ Go, their price, brand and mall comparison app, thus promptly bringing home a total of RM3,500 in cash prize.

First runner-up Mechatronic Makers’ Smart Car app that could be used to lock a car and check car health, among other functions, also caught the judges’ attention (and if he were there, Optimus Prime’s, too, surely) and brought them home RM2,000.

Welcoming the award of RM1,000 for second runner-up with a tight hug was Hello World, whose app functioned as an emergency distress button. (A text message is automatically sent to trusted numbers whether family or friends with the execution of a simple command, such as pressing the power button three times rapidly.)

Deputy Vice Chancellor of USM, Profesor Dato’ Dr Adnan Hussein and Dean of USM Electrical & Electronic Engineering Profesor Ir. Dr Mohd Rizal Arshad presenting awards to the winners

Other notable apps designed within the short timespan are FTW’s food calorie recognition app, Genius SC’s insomnia-reducing app, Mighty Dreamers’ public transport-centric app, and IM26C4U’s RPG app that could improve parent-child interactions.

Needless to say the challenge definitely brought out a spark of innovation and creativity in the participants, which was the main goal of the challenge in the first place. Yet, the two-day event was not all sunshine and rainbows as the very nature of designing an app from scratch in such a limited time involves hard work, perseverance and at least a certain amount of savoir faire in reaching group compromise and gaining jury appeal.

All in all, the challenge succeeded in attaining its main objective, and had left not only the participants but also the organising committee with an improved set of soft skills. As advisor of IEEE USM Student Branch, Dr Mohd Tafir Mustaffa said: UAC was a big leap for the committee to step outside of our comfort zone and learn to cooperate with established companies and NGOs, thus preparing us to deal with similar companies out in the working world when we soon fly out of our nests.

App Challengers gather for a final group photo

The University App Challenge initiative was only the first step in our long journey. Hungry for more exciting and thought-provoking events like this? We’ve got you covered with a series of colossal events this year, including IEEE Mobile Application Development Contest (also known as: madC), IEEEXtreme 24-Hour Programming Competition 11.0, HardTech Summit 2017, and Startup Weekend, just to name a few.

Maybe you are craving to be a part of our next initiative, or maybe you are enticed to become our next big sponsor and collaborator. Whichever the case, drop us a message at We’d love to hear from you soon!



Valarie John is a Journalism major who prefers pencil over pen and paper over screen. Passionate in all things thought-provoking and unproductive, she hopes one day to become either a self-sufficient author or a dictator. Or both.




Tan Kwang Shean, or just Wilfred Tan, is an unprententious writer who loves to record his daily life in words. With some luck, he is now a Journalism major learning the art of writing and hoping to inspire someone someday.



William Yeap is the Vice Chair of USM IEEE Student Branch for term 2016/17 and the Project Director of networking visits to both Singapore and Bangkok, has been an actively contributing executive committee for over 3 years. Loves travelling and the internet, a lot.