Women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people are underrepresented and often unacknowledged in entrepreneurship, particularly in STEM fields. The "Built By Girls" challenge, however, aims to change that starting at an early age. Girls ages 15 to 17 competed in this competition in San Francisco for a $10,000 grant and a chance to attend the TechCrunch Disrupt event, which occurs every year as a platform for startups to launch their products and services with the hope of gaining potential investors and more. And the participants of Built By Girls came up with some great ideas that show businesses in general and tech in particular really do benefit from including a diverse group of people.
Right now, women make up only about 26 percent of people in computer and mathematics fields and 11.7 percent of entrepreneurs in the United States. But while interest begins to taper off in fourth or fifth grade and declines further in high school and then college, girls start off as interested in STEM subjects as boys are. That's why it's so important to nurture this interest before girls start becoming discouraged by negative stereotypes about their abilities. Numerous studies show that it's society, not nature, that hinders women in tech and innovation.
Women can have great ideas and be kickass entrepreneurs even at young ages, and these startups from girls, including the Built By Girls winners, prove it.
A pair of 17-year-olds, Kathy Kong and Lillian Yuan, won first place in Built By Girls for their service Tara, which provides information to the large population of migrant girls in Cambodia via text message. It gives them self-defense tips, guidance on finding educational opportunities, and other resources for girls who are trying to find work and help their families. They chose to do this over text rather than create an app or website because many Cambodian families don't have internet access, but they do have cell phones. They told The San Francisco Chronicle that they plan to expand the technology to other countries as well.
Kansas high school student Erin Smith, 16, also won first place for FacePrint, which uses machine-learning algorithms and face recognition software to identify early signs of Parkinson's disease. She's currently partnering with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to get more data and plans to use her $10,000 to do more research. I told you these girls were smart!
This startup actually came about after Built By Girls, when the three winners and fellow participant Aruna Prasad met up and decided to enter the Disrupt SF Hackathon. In 24 hours, they built the first version of Mapsquito, a game for educating people about malaria prevention. The game consists of maps that show where in the world malaria is prevalent. Players view statistics about malaria in different parts of the world and catch nets and medicine to combat it.
4. Nao Me Calo
Brazilian girls created this app at last year's International Girls Hackathon to help other girls and women find safe places to go. It lets people rate establishments based on how likely women are to experience sexual harassment and other violations so that others can avoid unpleasant situations and businesses don't get customers they don't deserve. Like several of these companies, this one proves that getting girls into tech and entrepreneurship helps other girls everywhere.