I was honored to be a judge at the Technovation Pitch Competition today at Microsoft and was truly blown away by how much the program has grown over the past 3 years. Iridescent founder, Tara Chklovski, kicked off the event by sharing some startling statistics about how 6th grade girls actually score better in STEM content areas but somehow once we get to higher ed communities in a room of ~30 engineering students, only 3 will be girls. I wish that every person who has ever talked about the lack of diversity in the startup community would have been in the room today, not only to hear these stats, but to see a program like the Technovation Challenge that is determined to change the ratio.
If only all Demo Days embodied this level of energy and authentic enthusiasm. 10 teams had 4 min each to pitch their Android App and then respond to questions from the judges. The ideas ranged from medical/healthcare apps that allow you to easily share your general medical history to food discovery apps for people with allergies or dietary restrictions (vegans) and games that teach marine biology in a fun and engaging way. The winning team from our session was an app designed to reduce teenage pregnancy and STDs by providing preventative care information in a format that is appealing and compelling for high school students. The pitches were great, however, what was most impressive was the demonstration of what the girls had learned about what it really means to make something out of nothing. During the poster session I spoke with several of the teams who shared their experiences with customer development, co-founder disagreements, sizing the market, brainstorming distribution strategies, outlining business models and perfecting your pitch. These are the exact same topics that I discuss with startups that I work with in various incubator programs in Silicon Valley and it’s inspiring to see high schools girls learning these processes and techniques that they will hopefully carry with them as they continue their education and professional careers. This is what authentic STEM education looks like. This is what teaching entrepreneurship really means.
Towards the end of the event I was asked what I’d like to see come out of this type of program over the next several years. Ideally, if we say we want to educate our children to be the innovators of the future then I strongly believe this type of program needs to be integrated into the K12 curriculum. Shouldn’t all students have an opportunity to gain these necessary skills during the traditional school day?
The winning teams from today and the other regional challenges will come together at Intel in Santa Clara next Thurs, May 3rd for the National Pitch Competition. Tickets are free so if you’re available and are interested in seeing what empowering young girls to develop an authentic desire for coding and entrepreneurship looks like, I highly recommend you attend. Kudos to the entire Iridescent team for a fabulous event today and for empowering high school girls all over the country to design their futures.