By Susan Hickman
Whether it was an application to match high school students with tutor volunteers, or a service to help university students find free rides to the grocery store, innovative ideas were buzzing in the hallways of St. Patrick’s Building on April 30.
About 100 girls practised their pitches in huddled groups, awaiting their chance to have their original app prototypes judged on the final competition day of the Technovation Challenge and they were rewarded with a visit from federal cabinet minister Catherine McKenna.
At the end of the day, a five-member team from Kanata’s Earl of March Secondary School emerged the winner with an app model that would connect thousands of parents of young children with teenagers who want to babysit. “Connectsitter,” said the girls who call themselves Team Pentagen, has the potential to ultimately serve the elderly and pet owners looking for care services, and to expand to all of Ottawa and eventually to other major cities.
Inspired by the popular sharing economy, Team Envisioners from Rockcliffe Park’s Elmwood School came in second with a “try before you buy” app called Covalend, which would give potential borrowers access to thousands of items such as sports equipment, clothing and power tools.
The second annual Technovation competition, hosted by the Ottawa Chapter of Women Powering Technology with support from the Embassy of the United States in Ottawa, concluded a 12-week program on technology and innovation designed to interest girls in technology careers. The 22 teams from Ottawa high schools and middle schools met weekly at local high-tech facilities – IBM, Pythian, Shopify and L-Spark – and learned to develop a concept for an application under the guidance of students in Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program and other mentors.
“It’s really important that we have programs like this to give girls an exciting opportunity to do coding, develop business skills and find solutions,” said McKenna, minister of Environment and Climate Change, who talked to the girls at the end of the competition.
“We need more innovation in our country and more women in technology. We need solutions for climate change, for example. I hope you continue to be innovators and that you consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” she told participants. “This is how we are going to improve the world.”
Beyond coding skills, algorithmic thinking and programming, the girls learned how to build a company, launch their apps and pitch their business plans to experts in the field.
“Everything in our century is about technology,” said 14-year-old Alaa Ba-Rasheed after her Grade 9 team presented an app to help newcomers to Canada find a dentist. “I would really recommend this program for people who want to go into business, because it teaches you about branding and promotion, as well as market analysis.”
Spruha Sanghavi, a 15-year-old Grade 9 participant, admitted she learned a lot about business during the course of the program. “I wanted to go into medicine, but now I’m thinking I will go into IT as a career.”
The Ottawa Chapter of Women Powering Technology (WPT), which recruited the teams, brought the Technovation Challenge to Ottawa for the first time last year. This year’s program attracted twice the number and a stronger calibre of student, said organizer Stephanie Caron.
“We also doubled the number of women from tech companies who mentored the teams,” added WPT’s Jennifer Francis. “They are attracted by a program that really does seem to change girls’ attitudes to tech careers.”
Technovation panel judge Rob White, a guru in the software industry who was also an arbiter at last year’s event, believes the girls are more rehearsed this year. “Exposing them to entrepreneurialism and to female leaders are good models and it’s never been easier to start a company, primarily due to cloud-based technologies, no capital requirements and great support programs like Google and Microsoft.”
Winning Team Pentagen will now advance to the global finals. They received a $1,000 Google Play card, compliments of Shopify