B.C. girls tackle mental illness, personal safety and social issues through tech competition

May 13, 2019

This Saturday, girls aged 10–18 years teamed up for a day of start-up style pitching as part of the Technovation B.C. Regional Pitch Event at SFU’s Burnaby campus. The annual event, hosted by the Faculty of Applied Sciences, is a part of the global Technovation challenge, which asks girls to build apps to address a community issue.

This year, 19 teams from B.C. participated by designing and building mobile apps to address issues such as immigrant services, mental illness and personal safety. Twelve teams presented their apps in front of a panel of judges at Saturday’s regional event. Judges included experts from industry and academia who evaluated the teams’ presentation skills, as well as their app’s functionality and suitability to the selected social challenges.

All B.C. teams will be judged in a virtual quarterfinal round that pits them against other apps from around the world. Senior division teams (ages 15–18) are also judged for their business planning. The top scoring teams that advance to the final round will compete at the World Pitch event in California later this summer for the chance to win up to $15,000 in scholarships. The only Canadian teams at the World Pitch event in 2017 and 2018 were from the Technovation B.C. chapter.

Technovation, an initiative of international technology education not-for-profit Iridescent, builds girls’ business and technology skills through a 12-week online curriculum. Since 2010, Technovation has reached more than 23,000 girls around the world through the challenge. The competition aims to close a gender gap in computer science; despite the computing industry creating jobs at a rate three times the U.S. national average, research predicts that women will hold only 20 per cent of computer science jobs in the year 2025.

Past participants in Technovation report that the competition increased their interest in computer science (78 per cent), entrepreneurship (70 per cent) and business leadership (67 per cent). Most participants (70 per cent) take computer science classes after participating in the challenge and of those who later enroll in a university program, 26 per cent choose computer science as their major.

SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences coordinates the Technovation B.C. chapter by supporting local teams through workshops and mentorship as the regional ambassador for the program since 2016. This year, Technovation B.C. is supported by regional sponsors Frozen Mountain, Safe Software and Visier, with national sponsor #IBMSTEM4Girls.

This year’s winnings apps from the B.C. regional event are:

Senior division (ages 1518)

First place — Connemity *
Connemity connects new immigrants to local mentors and opportunities in their new community through the app and its accompanying contact database.

Junior division (ages 1014)

First place — GurlGuard
GurlGuard is designed to support girls’ safety in the event of an attack to their personal security. The app includes the ability to send a distress message in the event of an attack and share a map location of where the incident occurred.

Second place — Hello Communication!
Hello Communication! supports non-verbal children with autism to communicate using customizable text, pictures, and audio through the app.

Third place — Just Breathe
Just Breathe helps individuals with mental illness to develop healthy coping mechanisms and to prevent self-harm using activities from common psychological therapy methods, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

People’s Choice

Best overall app — CHAT (Connected, Health, Activity, Tracker)
CHAT helps older people to track their health and activities while receiving daily reminders and connecting to their loved ones through text, photos, and telephone.

Best elevator pitch — SaveTheWorld
SaveTheWorld is an app to help users make eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and global warming.

*Only one prize was awarded in the senior division category at the regional event this year.