Deborah Berebichez became involved with Technovation Challenge because she wanted to promote gender equality by influencing and increasing the amount of women enthusiastic about joining professions usually dominated by men.
“I was discouraged as a child of getting into physics because I was a woman,” Berebichez, a global ambassador for the competition who has a doctorate in physics, told MSNBC. “So I have been trying to get more women interested in science and technology.”
Technovation Challenge is a biannual competition for teenage girls from around the world who are passionate about science and entrepreneurship. It aims to teach them how to develop a working cell phone application that addresses a problem in their under-served communities. Over three months, women from the technology industry mentor teams of five girls to build a business plan that corresponds with their chosen applications. Ultimately, the teams pitch their final product to a panel of judges with the goal of creating a small company focused on the business plan. Regional winners attend World Pitch Night, where the champions receive $10,000 to introduce their application to the market.
“We want to bring gender equality to technology and the sciences because we believe diversity is very important for progress,” said Berebichez, who is originally from Mexico City. “We want to have more women be CEOs of top companies, and creating technology literacy helps create a generation of successful women.”
This year, 570 girls competed from 24 states and 19 different countries, ranging from Ghana and India, to the Ukraine and Brazil. The annual goal is to engage 200,000 girls worldwide. Almost 95% of the participants reported saying they want to enter a profession in the science, technology, or engineering industries, Berebichez said.
“Many of them didn’t even think they would go to college; nevermind in a male-dominated field,” she said.
Some of the applications submitted function as aids to young students when dissecting animals in science class or as assistants for others in learning the Periodical Table of the Elements.
The challenge has received about 1,400 participants who have developed more than 300 working applications since 2009 when Anuranjita Tewary began putting her ideas in place for the competition. She wanted to offer girls the opportunity to become high-tech entrepreneurs. Technovation Challenge, which held its first competition from California in 2010, is organized by Iridescent Learning and receives financial support from the Office of Naval Research.
“Empowering women in developing countries is where the future of progress lies in the world,” Berebichez said. “Because we’ve seen that when women are subjected to difficult conditions like poverty, that is when the entire family has the problems to survive.”
Technovation Challenge was chosen as one of five finalists in the Feast contest. Each innovator has received one ticket to the 2013 Feast Conference, which focuses on learning, health, and veterans. The organization with the most votes by Oct. 6 will receive a speaker spot at the three-day conference, which begins on Oct. 16 in New York City, for the chance to call participants to action.
Like what Technovation Challenge is doing? See the other Feast contestants and vote for your favorite here.