By Bin He, Kimberly Eng Lee and Jenny Zhang
What began as a Sunday afternoon gathering for mothers and daughters (over 330 actually), became the start of a journey of innovation for our families. In late 2013, at Girl’s Innovate’s Inaugural Conference in Menlo Park, we attended the “Technnovation Challenge” workshop with SF Bay Area Director, Annalise Hoopes. Technovation’s mission is to inspire and educate girls to solve real-world problems through technology, and encourage them to pursue STEM (Science, Technology and Math) studies and careers. Intrigued by the idea that our girls could develop a mobile “app” to solve a real-world problem by partnering with female mentors/coaches in the tech industry, we two moms looked across the table at each other in hopes of forming a new middle school team. That was the beginning of deep friendships and a journey into a process where our young girls embraced questioning, risk, openness, patience and trust to become innovators themselves, just as the Keynote Speaker and technology pioneer, Judy Estrin had suggested. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined how the whole thing would evolve.
In the next leg of our journey, we were helped tremendously by Girl’s innovate! Most other Technovation teams were hosted by schools, but here were girls from Palo Alto/Los Altos/Mountain View/Cupertino area who wanted the chance to work together. Girls Innovate! stepped up to sponsor five teams and simultaneous support them with an “Intro to Startup” series. These workshops introduced basic business, design thinking, marketing, finance and pitch concepts, culminating in a live pitch event with VC judges. The series was also open to other Girl’s Innovate! participants. Our girls formed Team Intrikit, with members Carolyn, Samantha, Serena and Erica, project mentor, Kathrine Kuan, who is actually an app development manager at Google and moms, Bin, Jenny and Kimberly. We met twice weekly to work through the Technovation Challenge curriculum with one session lead by Kathrine and one session lead by Kimberly. In May, our team had a field trip to Google’s head office in Mountain View to tour and lunch with some real-life “Googlers”. It was a very fun and eye-opening experience for all of us.
Over the next four months Team Intrikit worked very hard to design and develop “Aibo” a mobile app to help autistic children better communicate their feelings so they can build friendships and deal with challenges in school.
In May, the team presented at the Bay Area Technovation Showcase in San Francisco — they looked and sounded great, and had lots of inquiries about their posterboard, people were really interested in Aibo! http://vimeo.com/96501777
Then, in mid June we heard the top ten teams present at the Technovation 2014 World Pitch event! We were so impressed with all their ideas and the efforts of girls around the world to impact their community.
But wait, the story didn’t end there. Over the summer, Serena and Erica attended the World Ocean Summit 2014 Fishackathon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They were the only middle schoolers there. And Samantha went to a Girl’s coding camp and her team’s idea was selected and funded with $31,000 to develop into a real product by a video game company! Serena and Erica were introduced by Girl’s Innovate to volunteer at a code camp organized by Stanford computer science students to teach kids in East Palo Alto for free. Both Carolyn and Erica have chosen Programing Principals in their freshman year as electives so they can do computer AP in future. Erica thinks she may want to study Computer Science in college.
It’s hard to believe how much can happen in a year — we have all grown so much, met so many interesting people, and are inspired to keep on innovating. Thanks Girls Innovate!