This year, several new businesses are expected to move into a recently renovated space at Waterloo Innovation Park.

It's among a cluster of buildings at 609 Kumpf Drive just north of Waterloo geared towards tech companies in need of office space.

A common request among prospective tenants was access to common areas where they could hold meetings with clients and business partners.

But rather than go straight to a design firm, the building’s administrators decided to try something different, and put a challenge to some creative students.

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Mary Jane Lawson, broker of record for MJ Lawson Real Estate, which is leasing the space, says she had heard about Conestoga College’s new four-year program for interior design. She decided to organize a competition to see who could draw up the best plans for a common boardroom and cafe within one day of work.

“The design is not being promised to be used,” said Lawson. “But there is a cash prize for first, second and third. The landlord has generously donated $3,500 as the top prize for the winning team.”

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The program’s coordinator, Wendi Hulme, explained what the judges would be paying attention to in the student designs.

“They’re looking for creativity, they’re looking for functionality, use of technology into the design,” said Hulme. “They want to make sure it could be feasible, it could actually be built - no spaceships.”

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The college program is so new that no one has graduated from it yet. Students at the competition are in their second and third year.

Heather Schaefer, a third year student, says there are a number of benefits to designing at the actual site where construction will take place.

“You just have a better feel for what is going on in the space, nothing can replace that.” said Schaefer. “And in terms of working under a crunch in this type of environment, I think it really teaches you to go with your gut and your intuition.”

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Clemens Sels, the president of Waterloo Innovation Park, says while part of holding this event was born out of a real need, he also wanted to give young people a chance to show their skills to industry professionals.

“I have three kids in university and I’ve realized over the last few years how difficult it is for students to actually get in touch with the real world and be exposed to future business employers and activities,” said Sels.