Shiftkey Labs, Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Computer Science Software Technology Innovation sandbox, is proud to launch the Shiftkey Connects Program in partnership with Volta, Canada’s East Coast Innovation Hub. Through the Dalhousie Computer Science Department, the program brings together students who are studying Computer Science at Dalhousie and matches them to local startups in residence at Volta for user testing. 

“This program is a well-rounded, win-win situation. It supports start-ups, which are an integral part of our local economy and it provides students with experiential learning opportunities,” said Akram Al-Otumi, Director of Shiftkey Labs and Lecturer in Technology Innovation at Dalhousie. “Many thanks to the incredible people at Volta for partnering with us on this meaningful project. Special thanks go to Gillian Crosby, Martha Casey and Amy Conrad for believing in our talented students and fostering an environment that supports collaboration.” 

The ShiftKey Connects Program as a whole consists of three streams: quality assurance, business applications, and web development. In the first stream, students receive training on how to conduct beta testing for quality assurance for new software products; then, they provide testing services to local startups. In the second stream, students act as consultants for small businesses by focusing on how to implement technology-based applications to increase efficiency and scale businesses faster. The final stream allows students to work directly with non-profit organizations to build or revamp their website and train staff and volunteers on website upkeep. 

Students who are connected to startups at Volta will be aligned with the first stream of quality assurance. In each of the three streams, students will receive five hours of training from industry professionals and leaders who are specialists in each of the three topics. Students will offer a minimum of 15 hours consulting services to the partner organizations, including startups at Volta. 

 “I think it is a great opportunity for students to get to know different start-ups in Nova Scotia and make industry connections. It also helps to gain technical experience and get exposed to different technologies,” said Gashin Ghazizadeh, a program participant.

This ongoing program aims to provide practical experience to the students, by allowing them to build their networks through the Volta community and broader Atlantic Canadian startup ecosystem. Both undergraduate and masters students will be eligible for this program.

Volta is excited to be a part of the ShiftKey Connect program to develop a pipeline of new talent and provide Dalhousie students an experiential learning opportunity. By committing to this project as a partner, local startups are benefitting from having their products tested and moving towards the market faster, while students are given real life learning experiences to help them excel through their degrees with a leg up when entering the workforce. 

Feedback from the program has been positive to date. Volta Resident company Talkatoo has participated in the program. “Talkatoo is developing cutting edge dictation software for professionals,” said Aly Mawji, Talkatoo CFO. “We engage with the Dalhousie User Testing Program to give us real world feedback from users. Through this effort, we are quickly able to identify bugs and design flaws before making our products available to paying customers.”

ShiftKey Connect will be accepting participants on a rolling basis, with a goal of accepting five organizations into the program each term. Organizations who would like to participate in the program are encouraged to reach out to Akram Al-Otumi, Director, Shiftkey Labs at Startups at Volta who are interested in being paired with students can get involved by emailing

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