A Halifax-based start-up is hoping to make it easier for international students to navigate the application process to get into Canada.

Dalhousie University computer science graduate students Ruhi Madiwale, Dhivya Jayaraman, and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu are the founders of RovBOT, a chat bot that will answer international students’ questions about the visa application process using Facebook Messenger.

“As we are international students, we know the problem of getting visas to Canada. It’s a hectic process,” said Samuthiravelu, the team’s mobile and web technician.

Samuthiravelu said for people like he and his cofounders, who are all from India, time zone differences can make it difficult to speak to someone on the phone and meet deadlines for applications.

RovBOT will learn the ins and outs of Canada’s visa applications, and then be able to answer applicants’ questions in real time.

Madiwale, the team’s technology evangelist, said their target customer is universities’ international student support departments, whose advisors spend much of their time answering the same few questions.

“These questions are very redundant,” Madiwale said.

“RovBOT would take care of these basic questions and help the student advisor to be more efficient in their work, and be more productive.”

RovBOT will only speak English for now, and will focus on student visas, but the team said it will eventually speak other languages, and could expand to other immigration applications.

The team is still dialling in RovBOT’s algorithms, and in the meantime, they’re learning the business side of things during the province’s Sandboxes Project Incubation Bootcamp.

“We are strong enough with the technical background, but we don’t have similar expertise in business,” Madiwale said. “We get a lot of input through the boot camp which will help us strengthen our knowledge about the business part of what we’re doing.”

The bootcamp is taking place at universities across the province this summer, and at Dalhousie, it’s hosted by ShiftKey Labs at the computer science building.

ShiftKey manager Grant Wells said the bootcamp is funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education. He said there are 23 teams of up to three people taking part. At the end of August, that number will be narrowed down to 10, and those teams will make pitches to a panel of judges who will award $50,000 in funding to up to five teams.

Samuthiravelu said if the RovBOT team wins, they’ll use the money to “boot-strap” their start-up, or fund it themselves, as they continue to work on their algorithm.



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