Merivale team wins Technovation event

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Tom Pechloff
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A team of girls from Merivale High School not only walked away with the top prize at the Technovation Challenge Showcase and Competition at Carleton University on Sunday, but they might get some high-level help taking their mobile application to market, the event’s organizer said.

Jennifer Francis, a board member with the Ottawa chapter of Women Powering Technology, said she was impressed with all 50 girls who took part.

“The winners, they were excellent,” she said. “A couple of the judges were interested in following up with them afterwards.”

The weekend event was the culmination of a 12-week program that helped officially launch the Carleton University accelerator in January. The program is designed to interest girls in careers in technology.

Over the three-month period, the girls were split into teams to come up with a business plan and a mobile application.

Each team pitched to a group of four judges representing the Ontario Centres of Excellence, the government of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, the L-Spark enterprise software incubator and accelerator, Carleton University and the event’s co-sponsors, IBM and Shopify.

The Merivale team, dubbed Women with Ambition, and Power, a team from Colonel By High School, were selected to advance to a final round.

Women with Ambition designed an app called Voluntapp which is designed to help link high school students with organizations for which they can volunteer. The app can be expanded to help people of all ages in their community engagement.

Power’s app, called Taste of Home, helps immigrants find stores that sell the foods of their culture.

In the end, the Merivale team won out and will now submit a video pitch that could see it become one of six finalists in a global competition in Technovation’s home base of California in June.

Ms. Francis said there is a real need for programs like this. In spite of all the talk about attracting young women to technology careers, the percentage of women enrolled in post-secondary courses in the field is actually falling, she said.

“I think part of it is the image young women in high school have of the field. It’s very male and they don’t see themselves in these sorts of careers,” she said.

The Technovation program stipulates the mobile apps must have some kind of community orientation, Ms. Francis said.

“What the group in California has found is that that is more engaging for girls – building things for their community. They get more engaged in the project, they stay with it,” she said.

This is the sixth year of the program but the first year it has been offered in Ottawa. There are already plans to expand it for next year, said Ms. Francis.

“The mentors came from a wide variety of local technology companies, so I think it’s a program we can really engage a lot of the local companies as well,” she said.

“These young women showed me that the future of tech is in bright hands,” said Shopify mobile lead developer IBK Ajila. “The level of creativity and ambition displayed was great, and I’m very happy to a part of this program.”

Diana Cianciusi, a program mentor and legal counsel for IBM Ottawa, said working with the girls was inspiring and energizing.

“The teams participating in this weekend’s showcase demonstrated remarkable innovation and business insight. They should all feel like winners.”

Organizations: Carleton University, Women Powering Technology, IBM Ontario Centres

Geographic location: California, Ottawa, Canada

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