If there was one word that popped up the most during the last day of TechGirlz’s fourth annual Tech Entrepreneur Camp, held at Drexel’s ExCITe Center from July 13-17, it was “community.”
This year was the first time the city’s business and entrepreneurial communities joined together to support the camp, in the forms of a grant from the city’s StartUp PHL Call for Ideas program and a partnership with Philly Startup Leaders University.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, the founder of TechGirlz, said she wasn’t surprised by these two communities helping promote the cause of exposing middle school girls to tech entrepreneurship.
“We all know each other — that’s the great thing about Philadelphia, is that we all know each other and we all support each other,” she said.
With the grant, the nonprofit plans to take camp materials, used to teach the girls about things like marketing research and successful pitching, and share them via lesson plans to any groups nationwide that want to run the program.
Sarah Johnson, TechGirlz’s new community outreach manager, talked about how members of the local community have already stepped up in helping run “pre-packaged versions” of TechGirlz workshops that teach girls skills like HTML/CSS and game design.
The last school year saw 50 tech workshops taught by the community which equated to 1,000 girls participating, Johnson said.
“The short version is we just can’t teach all the girls who are interested in learning about technology, so we enlisted the help of the community,” Johnson said. “It’s a great problem to have and we’re happy to have the community helping us meet the demand of middle school girls to learn more about technology through our TechShopz in a Box program.”
For the camp’s final event, “Demo Day,” 25 middle school girls prepare their tech business pitches for presenting in front of the “Dolphin Pool” panel of judges/investors.
Welson-Rossman stressed how important it is for women involved in local tech and entrepreneurship to give hands-on support as mentors and role models.
“If we can show them different people who are in the industry, show them what the job is really about, explain it in a way that makes sense to them and support them as they move on from this stage to the next stage,” she said, “that’s really important.”
Returning mentors — Laurie Actman, COO at the Penn Center for Innovation, and Candace Yaeger of Green Skyline and Candace Yaeger Consulting — spoke about how these middle schoolers are giving back by offering fresh perspectives or reiterating the value of entrepreneurship.
“I think they bring the mindset of a certain demographic that is really valuable and not easy to access otherwise,” Actman said.
“I always valued entrepreneurship, understood how valuable it could be for anyone to have a basic understanding of entrepreneurship and business but it wasn’t until I really started working with a mentor and younger people that I saw it,” Yaeger said.
Other mentors included:
- Slice Communications PR Account Supervisor Jenni Glenn
- Robin Hood Ventures and Temple University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute Executive Director Ellen Weber
- ROAR for Good founder Yasmine Mustafa
Michael Riley, cofounder of Boxter and one of the judges, represented PSL University’s dedication to helping TechGirlz be a key part of a diverse and inclusive Philly tech scene.
“We can’t compete with amount of funding or number of developers … but we can compete in other ways: we can be faster-moving and just more efficient in the way that we come together and learn and iterate,” Riley said. “I’m really optimistic about the future of Philly.”
If anything, Welson-Rossman wants TechGirlz to be a place that empowers girls who are enthusiastic about tech and to tell them “if this is what you’re interested in, it is for you.”
Bella Monzo, 12, of the team behind Transpire Gaming, a business idea combining exercise and gaming, said it was a no-brainer to sign up for the camp once she heard that there was technology involved. With the skills she’s gained from her time here, she hopes to make a website to help raise money for juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a condition she suffers from.
“Now that I know how to program and stuff [and] how to make a good business, I think I’ll try to do that,” Monzo said.
The five other startup businesses included:
- CluelessCloset, a virtual closet app with calendar and weather integration
- CoolKraftz, a website with craft ideas “by kids, for kids”
- Hazard Protector, an app to protect against violence
- RapidRescue, a face-recognition prototype to help find lost pets
- Sportique, a wearable technology that helps parents save money for their children’s athletics activities with sensors