When the song “Uptown Funk” came over the loudspeakers at the Minneapolis Convention Center this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but smile as a group of giggling girls pushed their way past me to hit the dance floor. Looking around the room, they weren’t alone. Groups of girls ranging in age from 10 to 19 were everywhere – laughing, dancing, and having fun. The room was filled with energy and excitement.

Making it even better was the reason why the girls were celebrating. We were at “Appapalooza” – the final state pitch event for teams participating in a technology entrepreneurship program for young women. I was honored to serve as a judge at the event along with Amy Smith, my colleague in the Mobile & Advanced Product Innovation group at Thomson Reuters.

Technology is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, but the statistics surrounding the number of women working in technology are dismal. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 1990, women held 35 percent of computing jobs in the U.S. In 2014, that number dropped to 26 percent. If current trends continue, by 2018, the industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs with candidates holding computer science bachelors degrees from U.S. universities. Girls are an extremely valuable, largely untapped talent pool.

The crowd at the Technovation[MN] event

The crowd at the Technovation[MN] event

Technovation[MN] is working hard to turn these numbers around by getting girls excited about technology and entrepreneurship. Their mission is to inspire and enable Minnesota teen girls to dream up, design, code, and pitch mobile phone apps. They encourage the girls to think differently, ask why, and challenge the status quo. The Technovation Global Challenge is the largest and longest-running global technology competition exclusively for girls to inspire the pursuit of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) The program is free to all participants, thanks to sponsors, mentors, and volunteers.

Photo booth fun at the event

Photo booth fun at the event

Six Minnesota high school teams and 22 middle school teams competed at Appapalooza this year – almost triple the number from last year. Four teams advanced to the global semi-finals, and from there, ten teams will move on to the finals where they will pitch their ideas to venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. The prize is $10,000 and the opportunity to have their app published to the app store.

At Appapalooza, each team was given eight minutes to make their pitch and demo their work. Speaking to a room filled with strangers can be challenging at any age, but perhaps even more so if you’re a tween or teenage girl. Some took to the stage naturally, while others worked through some momentary bouts of stage fright. Everyone made it through, and what an incredible experience to have under their belts! It was real, and the audience of over 400 supporters could not have been more encouraging.

The winners took home trophies, but everyone was celebrated. Shawn Stavseth, executive director of Technovation[MN], gave an inspirational speech that received a standing ovation. She reminded the girls: Regardless of who you think you are, you are capable. Any voice that tries to tell you otherwise is wrong. Never let anyone define your limits. Remember. You are awesome.

A group hug at the event

A group hug at the event

I was so impressed by the event, and I walked away hopeful and inspired. There’s no question in my mind that Technovation[MN] and these girls are indeed “transforming the world, one app at a time.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Gray for Technovation[MN]