Three Bay Area all-girls teams finalists in Technovation Challenge

Teams from Bay Area high schools have snagged three of the 10 finalist spots in this year’s Technovation Challenge, an all-girls contest in which the winners get $10,000 to develop a mobile app. This year, those who entered the competition were asked to submit ideas for apps to help their communities.

Iridescent CEO Tara Chklovski

The team from Homestead High in Cupertino is pitching an app that would help a community, among other things, keep track of lost pets. Palo Alto-based Castilleja High’s team submitted an idea for an app that helps identify volunteer opportunities. And the entry by the team from Dougherty Valley in San Ramon is a neighborhood-watch app. Other Bay Area teams earned honorable mentions, including teams from Mountain View and Oakland.

The Technovation Challenge, which began four years ago with a pilot program in Mountain View, is run by Iridescent, a science-education non-profit that gets funding from government grants and from companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. Iridescent focuses on steering underprivileged and under-represented students — girls — toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers by enlisting the help of engineers and entrepreneurs as mentors and including the students’ parents in its programs, such as family science courses.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Iridescent founder and CEO Tara Chkvlovski said that this year, 600 girls from 19 different countries submitted 115 entries for the Technovation Challenge. The first year, the challenge involved 45 girls. “The next goal is 2,000 girls globally. My five-year goal is 200,000 girls annually,” Chkvlovski said.

The Bay Area-based Chkvlovski, a native of India who studied physics and aerospace engineering, says Iridescent — and the Technovation Challenge — must often deal with the stereotype that girls aren’t interested in or good at math and science. “The first year [of the Technovation Challenge], 99 percent of the apps submitted were focused on fashion,” she said. After that, each year’s challenge was assigned a theme.

The spotlight has been on STEM lately. Earlier this week, as Mike Cassidy wrote for SiliconBeat, Silicon Valley companies SanDisk and Cisco joined President Obama in announcing a STEM mentoring initiative. And tech companies have been pushing for immigration reform that would boost limits on H-1B visas.

The Technovation Challenge’s winning app will be announced May 2 at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. Judges include executives from Dropbox and Google.


Photo of Dougherty Valley team courtesy of Iridescent


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  • curmudgeon2000

    Yet another recent study that finds there is no shortage of domestic STEM workers:

    Government and industry leaders are selling out their fellow countrymen, and
    The Mercury News simply parrots their propaganda insteading of printing the truth.
    Shame on all of them.

    • Levi Sumagaysay

      I’m not sure where you’ve ever read that I’ve agreed with any tech companies on their stance about a STEM shortage or H-1B. And my colleague, Mike Cassidy, recently blogged about an “opposing” view on H-1B visas:

      • curmudgeon2000

        The personal opinions of the writers of GMSV posts — which are
        rarely, if ever expressed here — are immaterial. The fact is that
        the position of the Mercury News editorial board has always echoed
        that of industry, to wit: there is a shortage of qualified STEM
        workers and more H-1B visas should be granted whenever they are
        requested. This position is regularly espoused in editorials that
        are written by the board as well as guest pieces from technology
        executives and industry association representatives. I cannot
        recall ever seeing an editorial in the Mercury News that opposed
        the H-1B program. Furthermore, when news articles about immigration
        policy appear, quotes from industry leaders about the need for more
        H-1B are given prominence, while if the opposing viewpoint is
        mentioned at all (and often it isn’t), it is only in a sentence or
        two buried at the end of the article.

        Finally, if your singular cite of one online article (to the best
        of my knowledge, it did not appear in the print edition) is
        supposed to be an indication that your colleagues hold “opposing”
        views (I find your use of quotes very apt), then it is a weak
        example indeed. When Mr. Cassidy states therein, “I’ve often felt
        that the anti-H-1B crowd was a bit hysterical,” it undermines your
        suggestion that there are writers at the Mercury News who are
        against the H-1B visa program.

        I stand by my original statement. The Mercury News has proven
        itself to be a biased cheerleader for the technology industry, even
        as that industry pursues policies that harm American citizens.