Carleton Hosts Technovation Challenge for Ottawa Girls

By Ariel Vered
Photos by Mike Pinder

Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program hosted the third annual Technovation Challenge finals, a global program that empowers young girls to learn how to code and solve world problems through technology. Since the program began in Ottawa three years ago, it has tripled in size.

“It’s amazing every year to watch the progress of the girls from when they start, when most of them have never coded anything, most of them, if not all of them, have never written a business plan and most of them are not really quite sure what they signed up for,” said Jennifer Francis, regional ambassador for Technovation Challenge in Ottawa.

Technovation Challenge: More than Teaching Girls How to Code

Catherine McKenna, minister of Environment and Climate Change and MP for Ottawa Centre, noted in remarks at the May 7 event that Technovation is so much more than teaching girls how to code – it’s also providing skills that help the girls work with others, be creative and think critically.

“You young people are so smart and you can change the world,” she said. “You are changing the world,’’ said McKenna.

“When you think about the problems that we face, think about how we’re all interconnected,” she continued. “Be ambassadors for Canada. Make sure when you’re thinking not just about what you get out of this program, but what your community can get out of this program, and what you can share with the world and engage with people who are less fortunate.”

Shirley Anne Scharf, director general for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, told participants that young women are under-represented in science and technology fields and this program equips them with critical skills and demonstrates that they have the capabilities to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Representing Change

“It’s important to note today that you represent the exception and you represent the change,” said Scharf. “It’s ensuring that we create the talent pipeline to foster your skills, your smarts, your ability in technology and your marketing strategy to move forward.”

Aimed at girls in grades seven to 12, the Technovation Challenge, the 12-week course challenges teams of three to five members to develop an app, build a business plan and learn how to pitch their products to the market. The girls are mentored by women in the Ottawa technology industry and the federal government. This year’s event was sponsored by IBM, Shopify, L-Spark, Adobe, Pythian and Carleton University, and supported by the federal government.

The five finalists presented their pitches to the crowd and a panel of judges. Their apps dealt with issues such as alleviating food insecurity; diagnosing dyscalculia, a specific learning disability in math; making life-organizing fun; enriching the co-op experience; and helping students fulfill their 40 hours of mandatory community service. The top three teams move on to the global Technovation competition.

Alex Benay, chief innovation officer for the Government of Canada, presented the awards. First place went to the Food for Thought team, whose app Food Locker seeks to solve the problem of getting nutritious meals to high school students who are food insecure in a way that protects them from stigma.

Benay concluded the event by echoing McKenna’s message of thinking out of the box and looking for ways to solve problems in our increasingly interconnected digital society.

“The five apps I saw today have the potential to change the game nationally and internationally,” said Benay. “You are limitless.”