Student Life

Sandbox Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship Centre

Sandbox Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Centre

The Sandbox is an exciting initiative on campus to allow students to explore innovative and entrepreneurial ideas with other students. This is a space to work together, be creative and play with ideas.

The Sandbox is a student-centric innovation and entrepreneurship hub at John Abbott College. Our mission is to engage students from all disciplines in a problem-solving process for real-world problems where students participate in non-credit activities, developing their own projects and gain experience.

We are located in Herzberg 163.

For more information:

514-457-6610 Ext. 5120



Green Innovation Challenge, January 2024

On Friday, January 12, the 3rd edition of the Green Innovation Challenge, presented by Pfizer Canada, was held at John Abbott College.

Inspired by the “Startup Weekend” concept, seven teams, comprised of a total of 22 students from different Montreal CEGEPs, challenged themselves over the span of 12 hours to conceive and present a comprehensive project to a panel of judges with the hopes that their project would be selected for a cash prize from the College and Pfizer Canada. The goal of the challenge is to develop a practical idea that can help find a solution to a real-world problem.

First Place Winner: De-Icing with Pickles:

Olivia Preiss, Joshua Nicodemo, Kayley Zaidi and Sonia Hussain

From left to right: Cynthia Aboud (Senior Vice-President Accord Financial Inc.), Gary Whittaker (Professor at McGill and John Abbott College’s Continuing Education program), Olivia Preiss, Tracey McKee (John Abbott College Program Dean – General Education & Arts), Joshua Nicodemo, Kayley Zaidi, Sonia Hussain, and Guy Lallemand (John Abbott College Foundation Chairperson).

Traditional rock salt is used throughout the Winter to de-ice roadways in Canada. However, rock salt can be risky to local flora and fauna, in addition to road, vehicle and infrastructure longevity. As a result of these issues, the Canadian government felt it necessary to declare road salt to be a toxin in 2001. Despite this, only 13 municipalities in Quebec have made efforts towards using environmentally friendly alternatives, not including Montreal. Montreal uses approximately 200,000 tons of expensive, harmful rock salt annually, a number which continues to rise as climate change causes weather to be more and more unpredictable. Thus, we took it upon ourselves to find a solution for John Abbott to reduce its rock salt usage.

Surprisingly, there are multiple food by-products which are extremely effective at de-icing roads while maintaining driver safety and reducing costs. Pickle brine is one of these alternatives, and it is the ideal solution to salt overuse on the John Abbott campus. By using pickle juice sourced from multiple avenues including the JAC cafeteria, local restaurants, students, and potentially pickle manufacturers themselves, it will be possible to implement a program that allows for the roadways of Abbott to be de-iced using a combined pickle brine/rock salt solution. By Winter 2025, we aim to have this program fully in place and operating.


Project Update: 1st Place Prize: De-Icing with Pickles

Since January, our project has been steadily getting closer to enactment. With the aid of some cafeteria staff, we were able to collect enough pickle juice to put our ideas to the test and, after a bit of waiting for snow, we had a successful trial run! By using a salinity testing device, we were able to ensure the pickle brine we applied was not too salty as to damage anything while also being just salty enough to prevent ice formation. Though there sadly was no ice formation even outside of where we applied the pickle juice because of the snow, what snow did fall was extremely easy to remove when compared to the snow around it. What’s more, as you would expect, that pickle juice was simple to apply and only required a single box of salt to reach proper salinity. All in all, though we had to wait a bit longer than expected to begin testing, we’re excited to have had a successful trial so quickly.

Besides our trials, we have been in the process of organising all other aspects of the project to ensure it runs smoothly. Most importantly, we have recently organised a meeting with the facilities staff of JAC, as they are the people who will be putting our pickle plan in action if they approve of our idea. Though we have faith in our plan, faith does not necessarily mean it will perfectly function in its current form. In particular, the issues of how and where to store the pickle juice remain. With their guidance, we hope to ensure our project is both feasible and simple for JAC’s workers to enact.

If we are approved, we plan to immediately install all necessary storage containers for the pickle juice and reach out to local businesses over the summer to ensure enough pickle juice is collected before the start of this year’s winter, as we hope to have our project up and running by that time. The main businesses we plan to reach out to are restaurants, as the pickle juice they have leftover sadly goes down the drain. By summer’s end, we hope to have at least one of the businesses we reach out to willing to supply us with as much pickles as needed.  Once the fall semester starts, we also plan to organise our first pickle drives, which we know the JAC student body will be more than happy to assist with. 

With all this in mind, we have hope for this plan to be fully in place by this winter, with our initial year acting as a time to smooth out any kinks which may appear. What’s more, we understand the high risk our plan may end up abandoned by the time we leave JAC. To ensure it continues even as we move on from JAC, we will work particularly hard during our final semester in JAC to make sure everything runs smoothly. As such, by winter 2025, we hope to have our plan fully ironed out and ready to continue even as we leave JAC. 

Click here to view the Global News interview

Second Place Winner: MedGo:

Andrea Sanchez and Iba Malhi

From left to right: Andrea Sanchez, Gary Whittaker (Professor at McGill and John Abbott College’s Continuing Education program), Cynthia Aboud (Senior Vice-President Accord Financial Inc.), Iba Malhi, Tracey McKee (John Abbott College Program Dean – General Education & Arts) and Guy Lallemand (John Abbott College Foundation Chairperson).

Did you know that 79.5% of people are unaware of safe medical product disposal techniques? This is a cause of concern seeing as medical products (such as pills, and vaccines) have contaminant properties for the environment. When thrown into landfills, they have toxic chemicals and emissions that harm ecosystems and wildlife. In light of this problem, we created MedGo as a way to educate teenagers, adults, and elderly people who take medication on ways to safely dispose of their medications as a way to reduce their harmful effects on the environment. MedGo educates our target market by pinpointing locations near them in which they can properly dispose of such medication while offering educational videos and articles to the users. Ideally, MedGo will primarily be promoted in CEGEP across Quebec with pharmaceutical programs as well as school nurses. We would also aim for MedGo to gain popularity within senior homes and pharmacies by implementing our QR codes on pharmaceutical items such as the paper bags they give at the pharmacy.

Moreover, the project development will require two phases. The first six months are to finalize the app, and then a year to expand our brand throughout the province. At the moment, while there are similar apps helping people decipher what items are to be recycled, such as “Ca va où?”, there are no medicine-focused apps in the province, therefore there is no competition. We will also ensure a strong Instagram presence to ensure constant growth.

In conclusion, Med Go can further be implemented in pharmacies, hospitals, classrooms, and even here at John Abbott to encourage sustainable pharmaceutical practices.

Project Update: MedGo

The MedGo app is still an ongoing project, which includes the coding and building of an app. The design and layout of the app is almost complete. The medication disposal locations are being finalized, and the app is shifting toward becoming more of an educational platform. At the moment we have reached out to the Uniprix near John Abbott, who confirmed that they dispose of all medications, with the exception of anything involving syringes. In addition, while the app is still a work in process, we are working on finding ways for the Biopharmaceutical Production Technology program to dispose of their pharmaceuticals in eco-friendly ways. Overall, it’s a big project and there is still a long way to go to finalize the coding, however, we are working on ways to make a change here at John Abbott!





Third Place Prize: Wheat Reuse:

Dannica Davies, Zoey Webster, Ella Cloutier, Nathan Wan, Emma Yee

From left to right: Cynthia Aboud (Senior Vice-President Accord Financial Inc.), Dannica Davies, Gary Whittaker (Professor at McGill and John Abbott College’s Continuing Education program), Nathan Wan, Tracey McKee (John Abbott College Program Dean – General Education & Arts), Emma Yee and Guy Lallemand (John Abbott College Foundation Chairperson).

The cafeteria at John Abbott College faces a prevalent issue characterized by the heavy reliance on single-use items such as plates, cutlery, and cups. This results in a substantial daily accumulation of improperly disposed waste, primarily stemming from a lack of awareness regarding effective waste management practices. The absence of reusable alternatives exacerbates the problem, contributing significantly to the environmental impact caused by unnecessary waste.

To address this challenge, a promising solution involves the introduction of reusable dishware within the cafeteria setting. By offering a “for here” option, students opting to dine in can use durable dishes provided by the cafeteria. After their meal, students can conveniently deposit the used dishes into designated bins, strategically placed around the cafeteria. The responsibility of cleaning these dishes would fall on student-employed dishwashers, creating valuable job opportunities within the college community.

The real-world application of this idea involves the utilization of wheat straw plates, bowls, and utensils—a sustainable alternative that aligns with environmentally friendly practices. These biodegradable items not only mitigate the waste management crisis but also promote responsible consumption. The wheat straw materials are versatile, being suitable for use as fertilizer once decomposed, non-allergenic, gluten-free, sturdy, microwave and freezer safe, and free from harmful substances like BPA. The proposed timeline for this initiative suggests planning during the Winter 2024 semester and the Summer, with a gradual implementation starting in the Fall 2024 semester and continuing onwards. This comprehensive approach aims to revolutionize the cafeteria experience at John Abbott College, fostering sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Green Innovation Challenge, January 2023

The second edition of the Green Innovation Challenge was held on Friday January 13, 2023 at John Abbott College, in collaboration with Vanier College. The event was sponsored by the Caisse Desjardins (West Island), with support from West Island Community Shares (WICS). The intensive one-day event was planned in the style of a ‘’start-up’’ weekend. Students learned about how to develop their project ideas through a series of workshops and teamwork activities, after which the five teams “pitched” their projects to a panel of judges. Program coordinators from both colleges were present, as well as student mentors from a previous Sandbox cohort, who served to guide the teams in their projects.


First Place Winner: M & M:

Left to right: Student winners Yana Parkimovich and Cam Dorvilier-Schell with judge Susan Mckercher, Chair of the Board of the Caisse de l’Ouest-de-l’Île.

The M&M project is a student-led initiative that uses agro-industrial waste (specifically coffeegrounds) in order to grow edible fungi. In creating something from nothing, we provide students and charities with high-protein, nutritious produce for a fraction of the cost of store-bought mushrooms. This project will address the issues of organic waste and nutrition on a local scale. We estimate our project to be up and running by Spring break of 2023. We’ll be collecting used coffee grounds from the Oval Coffee House and the JAC Bistro and actively growing many mushroom varieties (to be donated to the JAC pantry, sold at the Oval and/or even at MacDonald Famer’s Market). As fungi is easy to cultivate given basic conditions, the project can be conducted on the JAC campus, in any unused space. In the long run, we envision an expansion of the project across other CEGEPs on the island of Montreal.






Since January, a project proposal has been sent to the Student Activities department to obtain a space to set up the mushroom farm. While the request was processed, a temporary space for the farm was set up in the Mushroomtopia clubroom. Allocated funds were used to purchase two indoor greenhouses, various liquid mycelium cultures, as well as plenty of bulk grain, sterile equipment and containers/shelving for production.

Throughout the semester, student volunteers took care of the mushrooms in the greenhouses, observed and altered their living conditions to provide the richest harvests. During bi-weekly labs, Mushroomtopia members were taught how to clone and propagate mycelium cultures, inoculate spawn jars and examine hyphae under the microscope.

The next steps of the project will be taking place in Fall 2023. The semester will consist of installing and automating a permanent hydroponic tent in collaboration with the Robotics Club, sharing the spent substrate with JAC Harvest and donating the fresh mushrooms to the JAC Pantry.

Second Place Winner: Fungicycle

Left to right: Student Eric Nyhus, judge Gary Whittaker, student Oliver Thomas and judge Sophie McCann, Director of West Island Community Shares

Our idea is to replace plastic and cardboard food containers with mycelium as packaging, and containers. Cardboard and plastic containers remain an environmental problem. Although in recent years single use plastics have been replaced by cardboard, cardboard still isn’t a good enough solution. Cardboard is derived from trees which means that replacing plastic with cardboard simply adds onto the forestation crisis. Mycelium comes from fungus, it is the “root” of the fungus and is a green material. We have selected mycelium to develop for use because of its many properties, properties like using agricultural waste in production, thermal resistance, moisture resistance, quick production and decomposition times. Mycelium is also inexpensive compared to polystyrene which is used in many plastic products today. Mycelium being a fungus doesn’t require access to sunlight, it simply uses the energy found in today’s otherwise wasted organic material.

To shape the mycelium, simply place the waste organic material into a mould, then place a fungus into that material. Within a week the fungus will have fully filled the mould leaving no waste material. Lastly, it is placed in the oven. Because mycelium uses otherwise wasted organic material, it uses only 12% of the energy used in plastic production, even better, because it’s organic we see a 90% reduction in CO2 released by this industry. We plan on using all of its energy and environmental benefits to make the world a better place by first starting in the food containment industry which has been a major contribution to the world’s current plastic crisis.

Third Place Winner

Left to right: Student Joan-Micah, judge Gary Whittaker, student Priyesh Patel and judge Susan McKercher.

The RainBeau’s goal is to implement a sustainable water collection system which aims to reduce the use of tap water for watering plants in the John Abbott community, along with its surrounding areas. The goal is to insert our tank which collects rainwater and stores it for later use to water plants, in contrast to relying on tap water. Currently, JAC uses tap water to water our plants in the Zen Zone and outside the AME science building. By installing this device at these two locations, the consumption of tap water is reduced by recycling water that is provided by nature. This creates responsible consumption of water, hence building a sustainable community. It is not only a benefit for the community, but also for the plants that will receive a natural source of water, in the form of rain. The reservoir can also be utilized with snow. The plants on land benefit from rainwater in contrast to tap water. When rain falls to the ground, it combines with other minerals in the atmosphere, which imparts it to an acidic pH which then helps to release micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, copper and iron from the soil. The first prototype will be completed 3 months following the event, with additional improvements and additions made on a monthly basis.

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