Girls find their voice at Technovation World pitch competition
From complex global environmental and social issues to simple games that banish boredom, technology has transformed the way the world works.
Although it sometimes seems like magic, technology doesn’t create itself. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Taking those ideas from concept to market requires knowledge, dedication, and the support of a team.
“If you have an idea, not just in technology, you need to be able to understand how to present it and develop … a business plan and how you want others to understand what you’re doing,” said Devin Dillon, senior director of partnerships at Technovation, a global non-profit that equips young women to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders.
Dillon and the finalists in this year’s Technovation Girls event, met with Sonia Tagare (@SoniaTagare), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the Technovation World Pitch event in Santa Clara, California. They discussed the goals of the contest and the stories behind the winning apps (see the full interview and transcript with Dillon here)
This week, theCUBE spotlights the finalists of the Technovation World Pitch Girls Senior Group in our Women in Tech feature.
Technovation creates problem solvers
Technovation is a collaborative program that brings teams of girls, or families, together with mentors. Entrants are challenged to identify a real-world problem that affects the area in which they live and code a mobile app to answer it. The project requires a group effort, with team members encouraged to involve their community, work with local officials, and create flexible solutions that support and incorporate existing resources.
“We want to create problem solvers, and problem solvers do a lot of different things in our world, including impact technology,” Dillon stated.
Watch the complete video interview with Devin Dillon below.
Making friends and opening possibilities
Over 7,000 girls from 57 countries participated in the 2019 challenge, addressing problems from environmental awareness to chronic loneliness for the elderly. Finalists were flown to San Francisco for a week-long event where they competed for the grand prize through a live on-stage pitch for their product. They also took field trips to tech firms, such as Uber and Google Ventures, met industry mentors, and had fun visiting local tourist spots.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the girls, most of whom have never visited the U.S. and are not fluent in English. “In my childhood, I dreamed to be in Silicon Valley, to go there and meet people who are already working in [high tech], and now my dream came true,” said Lyubov Dudchenko from the Kazakhstan Team Coco, which created the app “TECO,” a 3D mobile game that merges education and entertainment to help make people more eco-conscious.
As well as the opportunity to meet mentors in the tech community, the girls had a chance to celebrate their success and socialize with the other team members. “Last night we had a dance party, which was really fun. And we got to interact with people from all over the world. And it was amazing,” said Anna Ferronato, team member of Powerful Daisies from Brazil, whose “Safe Tears” is a suicide prevention app designed to bring at-risk young adults together in a practical, safe and informative way.
Albanian girls address domestic violence
One in two Albanian women suffer from domestic abuse, announces the pitch video for Team D3c0ders app GjejZâ, which won first place in its group. Albanian for “find your voice,” GjejZâ addresses a problem that the girls encounter daily in the media and their personal lives. “[Gender-based violence] has all these deep cultural roots, and it’s really horrible,” said team spokesperson Dea Rrozhani. “We would see it among our peers, the early signs of it, of course, and we would see how that would soon develop to what we see today in the news.”
Rrozhani and fellow D3c0ders Jonada Shukarasi and Arla Hoxha set out to create an app based on three pillars: “Helping the user identify the problem, empowering them, and then enabling them to take action,” Rrozhani said.
The app starts with a quiz designed to raise awareness of what constitutes gender-based violence. “It’s about self-reflection and serving as an early warning mechanism for people and questioning their whole perception on gender-based violence,” Rrozhani said.
The next stage is a 30-day program that educates women on myths and truths of domestic violence and empowers them through mindfulness exercises and success stories from women who have survived abusive relationships.
An information menu that connects users to local organizations offering help and support make the app not just empowering, but practical.
“One of the main points of our app is connecting scattered resources in our country,” Rrozhani stated. “We have all these NGOs and all these institutions that are designed to help women, but most [women] do not know that they exist.”
The app offers direct connection to not just non-profits, but to emergency services, psychologists, lawyers, doctors, and shelters that help women who suffer from domestic violence.
GjejZâ’s secret weapon is its opportunities menu. On the surface this resource doesn’t directly relate to domestic violence, but is a forum for businesses to post job opportunities, workshops, discounts and coupons aimed at women.
“But the thing is when a user, even though they do not suffer from domestic violence, if they enter the app for the opportunities menu, they also go through the entrance questionnaire,” Rrozhani explained.
Women are made aware of their own miseducation and misunderstandings of domestic violence through their answers to the quiz. This raises their consciousness to behaviors that support the cycle of violence in their own lives and those of their friends and family.
Winning the challenge brings longer lasting rewards than a trip to Silicon Valley. Technovation gave a total of over $50,000 in scholarships and funding to this year’s finalists. This means Team D3c0ders (pictured) has the opportunity to develop their app further, bringing awareness of gender-based violence to more women in Albania and potentially to the world.
Watch the complete video interview with Team D3c0ders below.
Neural networking helps eliminate invasive plants
Californian team Uproot took second place in its group with an AgTech app that uses artificial intelligence to identify unwanted plants amongst farm crops.
“What happens is noxious weeds often out-compete crops for nutrients,” said Sidney Hough of Team Uproot. “So, we’re delivering an integrated solution to help farmers manage noxious weeds on their farms.”
The app has three components: live plant identification using the mobile device’s camera, an information database on the plant and how to control it, and a monitoring feature to track locations of weeds and record dispersal patterns over time.
“I love coding,” Hough said. “But I didn’t realize that companies can’t live by code alone.”
She credits Technovation with teaching her how to create a business strategy and marketing plan for Uproot. “In the next five years, our goal would be to take the app nationwide [and] to train our model on more species,” Hough stated.
Watch SiliconANGLE’s interview with Sidney Hough of Team Uproot below.
Empowerment apps focus on helping others
Helping others was a theme for many of the finalists. The Tech Witches from India were inspired by the loneliness of elders without family. Their app Maitri provides ways to donate to elder care homes, as well as linking the seniors with orphans. The app is already available on Google Play, and “two meetings have been conducted already [that] were huge successes,” said Ananya Grover of Tech Witches. “The children [and seniors] were singing songs and they were sharing stories; they were dancing together. It was really heartwarming.”
Safe Tears by Brazilian team Powerful Daisies gives at-risk young adults a way to track their mental health by adding or subtracting tears from a virtual glass. “As my tear percentage rises, the app will send motivational messages to me like saying go talk to somebody or go find help and also encouraging me to get better. And if I’m happy I take tears out and I get messages like congratulating me because I’m doing better,” explained the Powerful Daisies’ Anna Ferronato.
When and Where by Spanish team LPSN was another finalist app that focused on female safety. Inspired by recent attacks in the girls’ Madrid neighborhood, the tracking app sends alerts if a woman fails to arrive at her destination or leaves her planned route. When and Where is available to download, and the girls are actively promoting their app on Twitter and Instagram.
Gaming to save the planet
Team Coco of Kazakhstan took a different approach than the other finalists. Their 3D mobile game TECO educates players in eco-consciousness. In the game, an astronaut has to save the virtual Earth, and in-app points are earned by real-life positive actions.
“We have a step counter which … encourages people to choose more eco-friendly transportation options,” Lyubov Dudchenko of Team Coco explained.
Sensor-equipped recycling bins within the city are linked to the app. Dropping items for recycling in these bins registers in the augmented reality of the game, and players obtain in-game credit.
Team Coco have big hopes for TECO. “We plan to expand, not only in our country, Kazakhstan, not only locally, but also globally,” said team member Dana Yerlanova. “We would like to create the eco-friendly community across Central Asia, since we want to make sure that eco-consciousness is global in our area.”
Events like Technovation are making a difference globally in the tech industry … and beyond.
“Technovation helped us to understand the opinions of other people and to understand the problems in our society,” said Team Coco’s Malika Buribayeva. “We start to dream bigger, to think bigger.”
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