Youngstown girls create app for competition


By Bruce Walton

bwalton@vindy.com

Youngstown

Three friends gathered at Oakhill Collaborative this week for their last big meeting together before Tuesday, when they’ll turn in the mobile app they’ve been working on since January.

Gabrielle Augustin, 14, and Hannah Jones, 14, both from Ursuline High School, and Antoinette Douglas, 15, started pitching their app, with their mentors and coaches making sure they knew how to sell it and how to answer any questions buyers might have.

The girls are working together for the “Technovation Challenge,” a program and global competition created in 2010 to give young women the opportunity to learn about starting a company and becoming tech-savvy entrepreneurs. This program also helps focus on workplace inequality with women in nontraditional positions, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The competition is open to challengers from all over the world with hundreds of submissions projected to come in (in 2015 more than 400 were submitted). The top app submitted will have a chance to win $10,000 to help with funding to launch their app.

The challenge requires a team of high-school girls to create an app, short for application, to improve community problems. After submitting the apps, they will be judged on how well they identify and address a real problem in the community for the app as well as how functional and intuitive the app can be for users.

“It was a lot of fun,” Hannah said of working together on the project in the evenings. “I also liked getting into technology, especially as a girl, because there’s not enough [girls in technology] – and it’s a fun thing, so I don’t see why there isn’t.”

The girls called their company NASCENT and focused on the rising infant-mortality rate in the Youngstown area, creating an app named Neoovum. The app will partner with local doctors and medical professionals in the Youngstown area to provide local resources for expecting mothers.

Oakhill Collaborative initiated the first pilot program this year with the help of the YWCA and its Youth and Empowerment Program Manager Jennie Andrews, who helped lead the team. Because the competition started in July, they had to work double- time to close the gap while the girls juggled their social lives and extracurricular activities.

“We bring Chromebooks, typically, and every night we’re here for two hours. And the girls are showing up from theater practice and track practice so they are coming through the door with their minds racing, too,” Andrews said. “So we come in, jump in and get started.”

Gabrielle worked on the coding of the app, Hannah mostly covered the design aspects and the planning for their company and the app, and Antoinette worked to make sure the app could be marketable enough to attract buyers. Though Gabrielle coded most of the program, every girl learned how to code through the MIT App Inventor program, a drag-and-drop style of coding that’s easy to learn and apply.

With the odds stacked against them, Andrews said they haven’t set their goal on winning, but instead focused on finishing the app in time. YWCA and Oakhill Collaborative plan to host a summer camp this year for the next Technovaton competition, where the girls said they’ll return to have a fresh start – and Antoinette said everyone should watch out next year.

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