On the evening of May 9th, a group will gather at Espace CDPQ for Technovation’s Demo Night. Teams of up to five entrepreneurs will pitch and demo their idea for a social technology app that aims to tackle one of six problems outlined by the United Nations as dangers to sustainable development. But for this demo night, all of the co-founders pitching their products will be between 12 and 16 year old girls.
The original Technovation Challenge began in the United States in 2009. Since then it has expanded to over 80 countries and more than 10,000 girls have participated. It is now an international technology entrepreneurship and competition to create mobile applications, which aims to foster technology and entrepreneurial abilities among girls aged 10 to 18. The Montreal chapter was founded in 2014.
“There’s a major gap between men and women in the technology field. The people who created this program wanted to encourage more girls to pursue studies in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] programs and also to pursue careers in this field. The fundamentals of that is that we don’t think that girls are uninterested; it’s that they’re not exposed to what a career in technology looks like,” Stéphanie Jecrois, co-founder of Technovation Montréal told MTLinTECH.
“We realized that 12 weeks is a really short time to prepare the girls and give them all the knowledge and build their own app or prototype, and also to create their own business plan and create their own company. So we are more on the model of the 20 weeks and more program. We started in 2014 and the first cohort of our students, of entrepreneurs I should say, in 2015. It’s now our third year.”
Girls are organized into teams of up to five and assigned a mentor who works with them through the duration of the project. Most of the mentors are professional women active in the technology sector.
“They are professional women in the field, either with a business background or an IT/product background. They can also be developers. We say mainly women because there are also men who act as mentors. And the idea is that the mentor accompanies the team throughout the program.”
The girls undergo a condensed version of a process familiar to any seasoned entrepreneur. They start with an idea, which they refine through a brainstorming process and a design-thinking process, and then attempt to validate it through surveys and research. They go through the process of creating their company, and are forced to consider what their idea does to stand out. They also learn how to code, trying out all the different languages before coming up with a coding of a prototype of the app. At the end of the six months, the international competition takes place and they submit all of the components of their project, including: a pitch video, a demo video of their app, the source code of their app, and a business plan. The demo night, on May 9th, is where they will actually pitch their product.
“We’re teaching the girls how to become social technology entrepreneurs. The app they are developing has to address a need they see in their community, and this year,what is very particular is that Technovation Challenge in the USA teamed up with the United Nations. So all the ideas that are being submitted for apps have to tackle an issue that the UN identified as one of six sustainable development issues.”
The girls had to focus on one of those issues, which included topics such as education and gender equality, and build their app idea to correspond to that. They were also encouraged to pick a subject that was of special interest to them, for example a problem they wanted to tackle in their own community.
“One of the teams, they were really interested in learning more about the economy. They said, ‘As young people, we don’t really learn how to manage money very well.’ When you talk about economy, about taxes, they wanted to better understand how to manage money and manage a portfolio. They really wanted to develop an app that would answer all those questions for the youth. Another team was really concerned about image, and how to have a better understanding and acceptance of their image as girls. They have a lot of pressure to look a certain way and have a certain image, so they wanted to develop an app to support and encourage girls to have better self esteem. Their app was called ‘Love Yourself’.”
The judges for this year’s event are Sylvain Carle, Angelique Mannella, and Anna Chif.
“These are all entrepreneurs who are very involved in VCs. They will be evaluating the projects. And really one of the bases of this program is that all young people now consume and use technology. they have an ipad or smartphone, they download apps.
We wanted them to go from being consumers of technology to being actors and producing content that’s relevant to them. They can be key game changers.
We also wanted them to learn the skills that they will use along the way, such as how to work as a team, how to challenge yourself and make something come together, how to develop a project and go through all the different steps of the project. Those are all communication skills as well, those are things that even if they decide not to pursue their projects, they will use later on throughout school and into a career.” For us it’s really about empowering young girls to become technologically savvy, to become entrepreneurs, but also to become concerned citizens. It’s, I would say, a complete program that we’re teaching the girls.”
In 2016, Team IndaFridge composed of Maé Guignat-Lépinay and Clémence Auclair (both 12 years old) from Nouvelles-Querbes middle school, was selected as one of the 10 finalists teams to compete at the World Pitch Event which took place in San Francisco from July 11-13, 2016. Their IndaFridge app was selected among the 784 apps submitted internationally.
The girls in this year’s cohort are all between 12 and 16 years old and you can see them pitch their products at Demo Night on Tuesday, May 9th at 5:30 pm. Click here to register for a free ticket.
“For us it’s really about empowering young girls to become technologically savvy, to become entrepreneurs, but also to become concerned citizens. It’s, I would say, a complete program that we’re teaching the girls.”