“Women have a lot of unique ideas,” says Shawn Stavseth, a co-founder of TechnovationMN, a division of CodeSavvy and the host of last weekends annual coding competition for girls. “They need to be at the table.”
Approximately 250 girls participated in this year’s Appapalooza, Stavseth’s says — a striking increase from its original 48 contestants in 2014.
“We have never really marketed, and the entire organization is volunteer-led,” she said, highlighting the success her team has had with word-of- mouth promotion. Several of this year’s participants were perfect examples of Stavseth’s comment—at least three said they decided to partake of the 12-week development process and the final showcase because their friends said it was well worth it.
Two high school teams and six middle school teams were announced winners at Sunday’s event, and these groups will advance to a semi-final round of competition. In that round, their projects are judged virtually, and they have the chance to win up to $15,000 to take their app to market.
If a team of girls makes it to the finals, they’ll fly to Silicon Valley in August and pitch their app to serial entrepreneurs. When that happens, they’ve stepped onto a national stage. Two years ago, Stavseth said, a group that went to finals was also invited to President Barack Obama’s science fair, where the girls procured a selfie with Vice President Joe Biden. So, the stakes are high, and the opportunities are real.
One of the high school groups who won on Sunday, SKeMAS, created an app called VIA, which is designed to support safe driving and discourage teens from texting behind the wheel. The app would prevent notifications from appearing while driving, and a planned future feature would lock the user’s phone when traveling at or above a certain speed. Team members said their mentors helped them become more polished and noticeable as presenters. The 4 Musketeers, a winning middle school group, created the Power of You app, which helps users find ways they can engage with social causes and track their progress over time. For example, a user interested in alleviating poverty would be able to use the app to research the issue and ways to get involved. Another feature gives users the chance to share what they’ve accomplished through social media.
Technovation[MN] team has made strides in the volume of people it serves, growing from seven participating schools in 2014 to 32 this year, and from 11 teams to the current 61. By introducing this many young girls to coding, Stavseth is hoping to diversify the field in the future.
“Many companies are trying to recruit them,” she said. “It’s amazing how quickly we’ve grown and it’s great to see the level of support.”