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Technovation Challenge brings young coding minds to UCalgary

Regional pitch event encourages girls to pursue technology entrepreneurship
May 19, 2017
Technovation Calgary teams with their teachers and mentors. Photos by Adrian Shellard for the Faculty of Science

Technovation Calgary teams with their teachers and mentors. Photos by Adrian Shellard for the Faculty of Science

Team ZEST from William Aberhard HIgh School pitch their business plan for their app, ClemenTime. Clementime offers a solution to help users remain productive and use their time more effectively.

Emma Ewashen, from Strathmore High School's team Byte Me, shows off the features of Walk Able, an app that offers practical ways for women to stay safe while walking alone.

The excitement in the air was palpable last Saturday, as seven teams of young women from high schools across Calgary and Strathmore converged at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary to take their place in a worldwide movement for positive change.

Calgary’s regional pitch session for the Technovation Challenge brought the best and brightest young coding minds together on campus for the culmination of a 12-week program aimed at encouraging girls to explore technology entrepreneurship.

Global initiative helps encourage girls to pursue careers in technology

The Technovation Challenge is a world-wide initiative in which middle- and high school girls design mobile apps, gain technology and entrepreneurship skills, and work with women mentors from the tech industry, and technical mentors from the university's Department of Computer Science. Together they work through an online curriculum focused on creating a smartphone app to solve a problem in the community, and teaching the participants how to create a startup company and business plan around the app.

For this year’s challenge, the teams were asked to address an issue laid out in the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that promote peace, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. They used their creativity, ingenuity, and determination to develop a solution to a problem that falls into one of six UN SDG tracks: poverty, the environment, peace, equality, education, and health.

The teams attending last Saturday’s event put their minds to work tackling these issues.

“It was definitely challenging but the challenge is what made it fun,” says Tia McDowell of Crescent Heights High School’s team edYOU, an app that aims to help students take the stress out of deciding on a post-secondary institution by curating a unique list based on each user’s profile.

UCalgary has strong connection to Technovation Challenge

Mea Wang, Technovation program co-ordinator and assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, says the program helps spark female students’ interest in technology, an area where women remain outnumbered.

Distinguished alumna Anar Simpson, BSc'86, MCS'01, jumped headfirst into addressing this issue when she founded her own company in Silicon Valley — much like Technovation encourages girls to do. As the Global Ambassador with Technovation, Simpson has helped grow Technovation to 78 countries.

With encouragement and support from Simpson, Wang spearheaded the Technovation program at the University of Calgary. “We want to empower our young ladies, by showing the community that girls can do technology as well,” Wang says.

Impressive presentations show wealth of local talent

The Calgary region teams came out in full force, equipped with professional-looking business plans, and fully-functional apps ready for launch.

“Today’s event showcases the power young women have to make a real difference in their communities — and the world — through technology, and how they can share their visions for change,” says Lesley Rigg, dean of the Faculty of Science. “These are big ideas and important discussions.”

The ideas ranged from an app that facilitates the search for post-secondary institutions and scholarships available to high school students in Canada, to an app providing a safe, comfortable space for young people to get their sexual health questions answered. Each team’s profile — including their team photo, pitch video, and demo video — can be viewed on the Technovation Challenge webpage under the Department of Computer Science.

After the presentations, the judges were so impressed at the quality of each team’s work that they asked for additional time to deliberate.

“We wanted to see if we could make a difference around the world through technology,” says participant Traneice Aranda from Bishop McNally High School. “Our main goal is to alleviate food waste and end hunger.” Aranda’s team — Unite — won the grand prize for their app, LeftOvers, which connects food vendors with volunteers and local charities to donate food that otherwise be thrown in the landfill.

“I think it’s great that a lot more women are being empowered to participate in these kinds of things,” Aranda says.

Technovation will select top teams to compete at the World Pitch Summit in Silicon Valley this August.

Technovation Calgary Regional Pitch Results:

  • ByteMe (Strathmore High School) - Largest Market Potential
  • edYOU (Crescent Heights High School) - Best Pitch
  • Pixel Chicks (Bowness High School) - Most Scalable
  • TBD (John G. Diefenbaker High School) - Best User Interface
  • (Sir Winston Churchill High School) - Best Consumer Insight
  • Unite (Bishop McNally High School) - Grand Prize
  • ZEST (William Aberhart High School) - Best Brand