Technology entrepreneurs recently had the chance to pitch their app ideas to a panel of eight judges from IBM, Shopify, Carleton, Industrial Research Council, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Women Powering Technology and L-Spark.
And they are young women still in high school.
On Sunday, May 3, Carleton University hosted the Technovation Challenge Showcase and Competition, which was the final event for the city’s first-ever Ottawa Technovation Challenge.
“It exceeded my expectations,” said Jennifer Francis, a board member at the Ottawa Chapter of Women Powering Technology, which brought the Technovation Challenge to Ottawa. “And the feedback from the participants has been great. They all said it was an amazing experience.”
The challenge is a global program that encourages high school girls to get involved in information technology and entrepreneurship – aiming to narrow the gender gap in those fields.
Since its launch at Carleton in January, 50 young women from seven local high schools have learned how to develop an application that would address a community issue. With students from Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program and female mentors in Ottawa’s high-tech community, teams created business plans and prototype apps during weekly classes delivered by TIM students at Shopify and IBM.
Tony Bailetti, director of Carleton’s TIM program and Entrepreneurship Teaching Area Co-ordinator at the Sprott School of Business, said it’s wonderful to see the community come together to deliver a first-class program designed to expand opportunities for young women attending local high schools.
“We’ve really set the bar high,” he said, adding that the teams did a great job working together. “They came together to expand and build on each other’s skills, and that was consistent for all ten teams assessed today.”
“This is a terrific program focused on entrepreneurship and innovation,’’ said Diana Cianciusi, program mentor and legal counsel at IBM Ottawa. ”The opportunity to work with such a talented group was both energizing and inspiring for our IBM mentors. The teams participating in this weekend’s showcase demonstrated remarkable innovation and business insight. They should all feel like winners today.”
A team from Merivale High School won first place for their VoluntApp and a team from Colonel By Secondary School won second place for their Taste of Home app.
VoluntApp helps high school students locate volunteer opportunities closest to where they live. The Taste of Home app allows consumers to find ethnic food items at local grocery and specialty food stores and promotes the discovery of new cultures.
“There were so many amazing apps, and we’re so fortunate they picked us. We are totally surprised, but very grateful,” said Grade 11 student Adrianna Chang. “It started as an idea to help high school students, but it has branched out to helping everyone around us and making a difference in the community.”
Chang, along with group members Emma Bedard, Susanna Ivanenko, Doris Feng and Jasmin Ali, were awarded $1,000, provided by Shopify.
“We need to understand what technology is, and how it empowers us,” Ali said. “This was a great opportunity to connect and understand how it’s evolving in a hands-on way.”
Francis said the competition’s real-world aspect encourages young women to forge a career in technology.
“If you find the right approach, you’ll see there is a lot more interest out there,” she said, adding that the competition’s community-oriented focus also helps spark interest.
Carleton was a great partner throughout the competition, she said, with TIM students teaching various modules and helping participants throughout the last few months.
Bedard, a Grade 11 student, said the competition was challenging and rewarding – especially because the team feels they have made a difference in the community.
“Any girls looking into this program should really consider it, because it’s a really good opportunity and a really good experience.’’.