When I volunteered to speak with high school girls about my own experience founding a tech startup, I didn’t know how much that short talk would change my life.
By Samantha Quist (Senior Director, Technovation)
Back in 2012, I took a few minutes out of my schedule as a busy startup founder to speak with a room full of high school girls about my experience. I was hoping to inspire them to become technology entrepreneurs and found startups of their own one day. These girls were participating in Technovation, the largest global technology entrepreneurship program just for girls. What I didn’t know at that time was how much that brief experience would go on to change my own life.
We all know that there’s a shortage of women in technology. But I didn’t really understand the problem until I founded my own technology startup in 2011. I looked for role models who were women tech entrepreneurs. And looked. And looked. I met a few, but mostly I learned how hard they are to find. I discovered that just 4% of Y Combinator founders were female (though the numbers are now said to be up to a whopping 10%). When I joined the Board at AOL’s First Floor Labs startup workspace and helped to screen applicants for that program, I experienced the challenge of finding promising female founders first hand.
After I spoke with those high school girls back in 2012, over 1,000 people went on to watch my talk online, and my own credibility as a founder increased. Prospective clients and mentors started to open meetings by telling me that they had already seen my talk online. My own career path completely changed. I don’t know how much I succeeded in inspiring the girls, but the experience of speaking with them certainly inspired me. Just over a year later, I put my startup on hold and signed on to run Technovation.
Technovation’s intensive technology entrepreneurship curriculum has 1,300 alumnae in 19 countries already, and growing. During the three-month course, girls work with female mentors from the tech industry to design, develop, and build mobile app prototypes, and then pitch them to prospective investors for $20k in awards. If I had experienced such a program when I was younger, I think that my own winding career path that I described to that classroom full of high school girls would have been a much more direct one.
Technovation is looking for volunteers now, to help grow the program for the February to April 2014 season. Women 2.0 members are especially well qualified to be inspiring coaches and role models for young women worldwide. In particular, the program needs:
Female Mentors. Work directly with a team of girls, either in person or through videochat, to guide them through designing, developing, and pitching their mobile app prototypes. Past mentors describe a highly satisfying and transformational experience that helped them develop their own leadership and product management skills. No mobile app development experience is necessary. The commitment is two hours per week for each of 12 weeks. (Or, make half of that commitment and be a co-mentor.)
Teachers / Group Leaders. We call them “teachers” on our website because many of them are middle school and high school teachers who open up their classrooms for after-school meetings -- but anyone with a safe space for girls to meet with reliable wifi can oversee a group of girls and their mentors as they work their way through the curriculum. Teachers can be men or women. The commitment is four hours per week for each of 12 weeks.
Regional Coordinators and Volunteers. Help recruit girls and mentors to Technovation in your community, speak to groups of girls about your experience as a woman in tech, or help us spread the word about Technovation to local press outlets. The commitment can be anywhere from 5 to 100 hours between now and March 1st.
I remember my own experience as a Technovation speaker, pitch coach, and volunteer back when I was a lonely female startup founder, and how it turned out to be a far more fulfilling experience than I ever could have imagined. Perhaps the same will turn out to be true for you.
You can sign up to be a volunteer mentor, teacher, or coordinator today. Or, reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions.
PS- Got technical skills? Help Technovation's parent science education nonprofit, Iridescent, by applying to be the Director of Software Engineering or a Software Engineer and help develop the technology that will deliver science education to more students globally.
How else can founders help inspire girls to get interested in tech?
About the guest blogger: Samantha Quist (@samanthaquist) is the Senior Director of Technovation and founder and CEO of Copywriter Central, a startup incubated at AOL’s First Floor Labs. She was previously a Product Marketing Manager at Google, founder of her own editorial business, and Director of Marketing for a high-growth internet startup.
Image credit: Wolfgang Lonien via Flickr.