By guest blogger Kevin Connors
In the burgeoning world of technology startups, only three percent are led by women—a statistic that TechGirlz, a Philadelphia nonprofit, hopes to change through an age-old childhood tradition: summer camp.
TechGirlz is an organization designed to empower young girls to become entrepreneurs and future leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is currently hosting its second annual entrepreneurship camp from July 8-12 in Philadelphia.
At a pre-camp event in June, 19 girls, ages 11-15, pitched original, tech-based business ideas, which are then developed under the guidance of leading startup executives and developers.
Their ideas ranged from “Wuffy Puppy,” a mobile app designed to locate fresh water when walking a dog, to “Where’d it go?” an app that keeps track of personal belongings. At the end of the week the teams of girls present their prototypes and business plans to a panel of mentors and experts.
“Young girls need access to hands-on experiences more now than ever before,” Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, said in a statement. “This camp is the one place they can get the experience they need to change the trend.”
While only three percent of tech startups are led by women, almost half of the 10 million new businesses in the next four years will be started by females, according to the TechGirlz founder. Women also make 70 percent of online purchases worldwide, indicating an apparent disconnect between tech startups and the rest of the business marketplace. The TechGirlz annual camp aims to close that gap. The three percent figure cited by Welson-Rossman, along with her estimates of women’s role in new businesses, and as consumers, come from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The National Science Teachers Association, to name one prominent organization, believes camps like TechGirlz can have the desired effect.
“It offers a non-traditional setting to participate in science related experiences and be exposed to female scientists and mentors,” said Bill Badders, the Arlington, Va.-based association’s president. “This not only builds young girls’ confidence, but it can spark a life-long interest in science.”
In addition to TechGirlz, Badders noted that several other organizations across the country, including his own, are actively encouraging girls to stick with math- and science-related subjects through a variety of forums. The NSTA holds the national Angela Award, which recognizes one female student who has been inspired by technology and encouraged others to pursue their interests in it as well. Universities such as MIT, Texas A&M, and Purdue University, as well as groups like Girl Scouts, also sponsor organizations and summer camps for young girls interested in tech.
Badders believes organizations like TechGirlz fill a void left by schools who do not structure enough instructional time for science. He says camps and other youth activities can help build a workforce in science and technical fields, which ultimately will benefit the U.S. economy.
“In order to engage young girls in technology, we have to start exposing them to experiences in and out of the classroom at young ages,” Badders said. “But then it needs to continue through undergraduate and graduate school. Tapping into this population and perspective is essential to being competitive in the global marketplace going forward.”