The Technovation Challenge: supporting young girls to become technology entrepreneurs

The Silicon Cape Initiative together with sponsors GirlHype and Britehouse, recently held the Technovation Challenge information session at the V & A Waterfront’s Workshop 17 in Cape Town, as part of Africa Code Week.

The Technovation Challenge is a global technology entrepreneurship programme for young women aged 10 to 23. During an intensive 3-month curriculum, which includes learning how draw up business plans, designing prototypes and creating pitches, teams of women work together to develop mobile app “startups” to solve real problems in their communities. They then pitch their start-up business to investors. The competition goes through regional and national rounds and culminates in Silicon Valley where the finalists are invited to present at World Pitch. The winning teams are awarded US$10 000 in seed funding to help launch their app.

“Following on from our Silicon Cape Women’s Unconference and our commitment to attract more women into Tech, Technovation is a great example of how Silicon Cape is building global bridges through partnerships that focus on closing the skills gap. There is currently a huge skills shortage, specifically in IT. With programmes like Technovation, girls can equip themselves with a toolkit that will set a strong foundation for their future, said Silicon Cape’s co-vice Chair Lianne du Toit.

The Information Session was well attended by schoolgirls and boys, past participants of the Technovation Challenge and representatives from tertiary institutions who wanted to learn more about hosting their own challenge.

Electrical and Computer Engineering final year student and founder of Educade, Regina Kgatle shared her inspiring entrepreneurial journey with the audience. Kgatle believes that learning should be fun and easily accessible to all. Using e-waste, she created the Educational Arcade Machine (educade) which is pre-programmed to complement the school curriculum and uses simple, fun games to help children learn.

Kgatle has received national and international awards for her work. In 2013 she made the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list and in 2014 Facebook flew her to the US where she received an honour award for young students changing lives through technology.

“When it comes to what you do, you have to have a strong why,” said Kgatle. “Why do I want to do that? And if your why is strong enough it will help you to keep on. My why is that I always remember that there is a kid out there who will not have access to the internet. So I must do what I can to help,” she said.

Kgatle recently founded which pledged to design educational games for Mandela Day 2016. These games will be displayed at 67 under resourced schools across the country on Mandela day, as a part of the 67 minutes initiative. “I wanted to build on the Mandela spirit and add to the Mandela magic with the skills I have and what they can do,” she said.

She urged the audience to “keep doing the work”. “You’ve got to put yourself out there so that people know what you’re doing. And you’ve got to keep going. Because at some point someone will notice and people will want to help you. So do good stuff. If your product is good enough then people will come to you, because good products speak for themselves. You won’t be ignored if you’re bringing something to people that they need and they can’t do without,” she said.

Keynote speaker Anar Simpson, Global Ambassador for Technovation Challenge, Special Advisor Women, Girls and Technology for Mozilla and Strategic Partnership Advisor to the US State Department’s TechWomen programme, urged the girls to use technology to develop solutions to empower themselves and their communities.

“You’ve all grown up using technology. But don’t just use it and consume it. Shape it, design it and use your experiences to create something new with it. At Technovation we encourage you to look problems that you see in your community and decide which one you want to solve. We’ll help you to develop your mobile app startup to solve these problems,” she said.

When the first global Technovation Challenge took place three years ago it reached nineteen countries. This year it’s taking place in sixty countries.

“You can only scale when you have partnership and collaboration,” said Simpson. “Your friends, your family, the people who serve you, the people who you serve – your network – that’s the key to collaboration.”

Technovation partners with the US State Department’s TechWomen programme which brings women from Africa, Central Asian and the Middle East, to Silicon Valley. The mentorship programme provides them with access and opportunity to advance their careers. These women are emerging leaders who return home with the aim of inspiring girls and women in their own communities.

Technovation Challenge Audience copy

Zimkhita Buwa, who heads up Silicon Cape’s Women Portfolio was a TechWomen Emerging Leader in 2013 and was asked to help start Technovation in Cape Town on her return. Technovation also takes place in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The positive impact of the Technovation Challenge is already being experienced in various communities.

“The Gates Foundation is looking at trying to solve sanitation problems around the world. And our girls are solving them! The team from Moldova realised that many of their friends were often absent from school because they were ill from Hepatitis A, which they got from drinking water from contaminated wells. The team arranged litmus testing of the water in the wells each morning and developed an app using GPS, to see which wells had drinkable water and which wells people should avoid,” said Simpson.

The 2015 Technovation Challenge winners were Team Charis from Nigeria, who took first place in the high school division for their app “Discardious,” a mobile solution to the problem of improper waste disposal in Nigeria.

In the middle school division, Team Pentechan from India took first place for their app “Sellexo”, an online marketplace for users to buy and sell dry waste. Awarded.

Some of the girls who had previously participated in the Technovation Challenge, took part in a panel discussion and shared their experiences. Team Retroburg had developed HushApp to help teens with self-esteem issues. GirlHype developed MyWeekend App for high school students in disadvantaged areas. This app awards points for homework done which can then be redeemed for activities during the school holidays.

“Technovation helped me to develop my confidence, especially learning how to pitch. And I learned about entrepreneurship which was exciting. Through this programme I met a lot of people and we went on to enter our app at another competition, Innovate the Cape,” said HashApp’s Natalie Davidson.

Bianca Blohm who mentored the HushApp team was the panel moderator. She told the audience that she had not come from a tech background. “We all got to learn so much, including the mentors,” said Blohm who had completed her post-graduate degree in Entrepreneurship. “The content in the curriculum is excellent. Even after doing my degree, some of the content there was much better than what I learned at university,” she said.

Registration for the Technovation Challenge 2016 is now open.

The Technovation curriculum is freely available online to all and includes technology and entrepreneurship tutorials and resources.

Bettina Moss


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