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Girls Using Technology to Solve Important Community Problems

By February 20, 2016

By: Allie Holmes, Technovation

At 9:00am on a Saturday earlier this year, while many girls were probably just getting out of bed, more than 40 dedicated and enthusiastic young women flocked to Salesforce in San Francisco. The middle and high school girls took part in five hours worth of workshops and engagement alongside Salesforce volunteers to learn the basics of App Inventor, a block-based coding program, and start brainstorming potential problems they could solve in their community through a mobile app solution.

Technovation Challenge

These girls are all participating in the Technovation Challenge, a global technology entrepreneurship program for young women. Through a 12-week, 50-hour curriculum, teams of girls, ages 10 to 18, work together with professional mentors to imagine, design, and develop a mobile app and business plan to address a need within their community, then pitch their “startup” business to judges. The top ten Technovation teams are invited to Silicon Valley to pitch their apps live to a panel of judges for the chance to win $10,000 in seed funding.

As a part of Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model, Technovation was treated to a wonderful space, passionate volunteers, and a delicious lunch (and snacks!) to make this day possible for the participants.

At the workshop, girls were treated to an overview of App Inventor by David Wolber, a computer science professor at USF and a member of the MIT App Inventor Board of Advisors. Professor Wolber taught the basic components needed to build a successful app with App Inventor, a block based coding program easy for beginners to catch onto quickly and robust enough for experts to build complex applications. Then, the girls were taught how to make their very own Raffle App, which collected phone numbers via text message and called a random winning number. The girls had the opportunity to explore the app further by building out their own features. Professor Wolber took the time to answer specific questions from the girls in order to help them debug their own apps!

Following a delicious lunch generously donated by Salesforce VP, Technology Services, Andrea Leszek’s team, the girls were treated to a panel of engaging female technology professionals, including Salesforce’s own Lead Software Engineer, Stephanie Ortiz, and Senior Director, Global Events, Joan Yanabu. The panel shared information about their roles as tech entrepreneurs, researchers, and engagement managers. They talked about the skills that helped them be successful in their roles, such as collaboration, risk taking, patience with themselves, accepting failure, and being open-minded. The panelists touched on how their major in college related to their career today. Many discussed how their college major did not necessarily define their career. College was more of a time of finding their voice, finding a great mentor, and joining a collegiate team that helped prepare them for success later in life.

The afternoon was chock-full of brainstorming community problems, like coping with the drought, helping people with financial problems, and keeping pedestrians safe. The problem identification led to some impressive potential mobile application solutions, which each team presented to the audience at the end of the day. One team is planning a mobile app that would use sensors to tell pedestrians how fast a car or moving object was heading towards them to warn them of the danger. It would also report an incident to police or 911.

When asked what they thought of the day, one student responded, “Everything went really well! I was excited prior to the event and it exceeded my expectations.”

Another student simply exclaimed, “LOVED IT!”

In addition to this workshop, Salesforce supports Technovation in a number of ways, both financially and through volunteer support. Salesforce supported Technovation in piloting a Mentor Training Program with 35 Salesforce volunteers last November and December. The feedback received from Salesforce employees led to drastic improvements to the training. In the end, more than 500 Technovation mentors and coaches registered to take part in the online training webinar series in January and are now set-up for success in leading Technovation teams this season. Over the past two years, 16 Salesforce judges and 27 mentors have volunteered to support Technovation. Salesforce is also funding Technovation’s expansion into Toronto. Thanks to their support Toronto has 49 students, 7 mentors and 4 coaches participating in Technovation in 2016.

Save the date for Technovation’s World Pitch Event on July 13th and 14th, where you will have the chance to hear from Technovation teams from around the world as they pitch their apps live to a panel of judges!

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about Technovation, please complete this brief form and someone from the Technovation team will be in touch.

Volunteer with Technovation