Using AI, Northeastern students in Toronto partner with Walmart Canada to implement solutions

Silhouette of a person speaking into a microphone in front of a screen showing a double bar graph showing different categories of Walmart products.
Courtesy photo

Two winners can be better than one — at least when it comes to a recent event at Northeastern University in Toronto.  

Last month, Walmart Canada and Northeastern University collaborated on a hackathon — an event in which people gather over a set period of time to propose solutions to a problem. During the event, 82 students on 19 teams had two days to develop tools to determine what Walmart Canada stores should stock and sell amid space constraints. The winners were then accepted into a four-week incubator program to refine and implement their ideas.

Walmart Canada was impressed with the students. 

“They originally had agreed to take on one winning team,” says Montse Sanzsole, director of strategic partnerships at Northeastern Toronto. “But they were so impressed that they took on two.”

And this was no ordinary hackathon. 

First, the students were given data from Walmart Canada, enabling them to work on a real problem rather than a hypothetical one. 

“There were techniques to infer, students had to use AI to fill in missing data, and we discussed ways to visualize the data — the first step was to discover patterns,” says Omar Badreldin, associate teaching professor and associate director of Multidisciplinary Graduate Engineering Programs at Northeastern Toronto. 

Secondly, the event enabled students to interact with not just Walmart’s data, but also with several of its executives. Each of the teams had to make a five-minute pitch to Walmart Canada at the conclusion of the event.

Finally — and perhaps most unique to the event — was the incubator program in which students will work with Walmart Canada to refine and implement their ideas.

“They had a very complex problem, so having a two-stage experience will allow students to experiment and expand ideas to something more complete,” Badreldin says. “It also gives students an opportunity to interact for a longer period of time with Walmart Canada employees, data, etc.

“It’s an excellent networking opportunity because they don’t only meet professionals, they get an opportunity to present both soft skills and technical skills to potential employers,” Badreldin continued.

Members of the winning teams said they were excited to work with Walmart Canada.

“I think we’re not only excited for the win, but excited for the future opportunity to work with Walmart Canada because they’re such a retail giant,” said student Ziyi Zhang. “And it’s always great to work with talented people from different backgrounds.”

Walmart Canada, meanwhile, said that hackathons are an opportunity for the organization to work with bright, young minds to develop solutions that enable them to better serve customers.

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @MoultonCyrus.