Technovation Challenge Links Girls to Tech Entrepreneurship

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(Futuristic Flame) Alumni App
The Futuristic Flame team wants to create an app that connects high school students, university representatives and alumnus from all over the world. [Photo Credit: Development Innovations]
The gender gap in the tech industry has been cited as a barrier for women in tech from Silicon Valley to Phnom Penh. While women make up to 59% of the US labor force, 2015 data from major US tech companies shows 29.1% of their staff are female, and only 15.6% of women are involved in technical work. The number of women in the tech sector is even lower in some developing countries like Cambodia. In an effort to help narrow this gap, USAID’s Development Innovations project has supported Technovation Cambodia teams since 2013. Technovation challenges girls age 10-18 all over the world to identify community problems, build a mobile app to address key issues, and design a business plan and pitch their idea. Since 2010, over 3,000 girls from 28 countries have completed the hands-on program and submitted applications to Technovation. Run by Iridescent, a non-profit that helps scientists, engineers and technology professionals to share their passion with children from underrepresented groups, Technovation is working for Cambodian girls. Technovation guides and encourages students to become technology entrepreneurs with a practical, user-focused curriculum.

“Technovation is very important because it encourages more girls to have early interest in entrepreneurship and technology. This is the skillset that all people need in their life,” said Ms. Sikieng Sok, the Technovation Ambassador in Cambodia. Sikieng is an IT lecturer at a university in Phnom Penh and a mentor to Cambodian girls that want to go into tech fields. She estimates each class she teaches has less than 10% female students, and wants to change this.

When asked why she joined Technovation, 18-year-old Ms. Dane Saret replied, “I’m interested in IT programs because I think nowadays technology is fascinating. By joining this program I can gain more experiences and I can learn something new that I can’t study in the classroom. I can also get involved in solving problems we face in Cambodia.” Dane and her team are currently working on an app that sells handicrafts made by orphans.

This year, 50 students from various public and private primary and secondary schools in Cambodia have joined the program and formed 13 teams. The girls learn entrepreneurship skills, including how to make business plan, and basic coding skills for computer programming and design. During the 12 week program, each team is mentored by a Cambodian tech and a business expert. The apps they design address their community problems, such as a Trash Bin app that aims to reduce the amount of trash people throw away.

In April, their ideas and prototypes, or preliminary version of the apps, will be submitted to the Technovation Global Challenge headquarters, and ten teams will be invited to present at the World Pitch in San Francisco. One winner team from each division will win $10,000 in seed funding to help them launch their app. Technovation Cambodia is planning a large National Pitch event in late April 2016. “As we see the benefits of the Technovation program for our young girls in Cambodia, we are planning to invite supporters to hear these pitches and learn about what they girls have produced. This event is to promote Technovation nationwide in order to get more girls into business and technology. Private sector partnerships will be crucial to supporting this project and ensuring it can continue in future years. We have secured $2,000 from companies including Wing and Digital Mobile Innovations and more are coming,” said Sikieng.

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