By Marisa Kendall Mercury News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Two California teens are finalists in a mobile app competition that includes middle schoolers from around the world. The app called "Loc8Don8" helps people donate unwanted household items. SAN FRANCISCO
Teenagers Allison and Jennifer John have been entrepreneurs for just a few months, but already the sisters from Redwood City have learned key skills such how to pivot and the importance of refraining from giggling during a funding pitch.
That knowledge is going to come in handy Thursday when the girls present their mobile app to a panel of judges in San Francisco for the chance to win $10,000 in seed funding. Competing against the John sisters will be three other teams of middle schoolers from around the world, all of whom are vying not only for the cash prize but also for the attention of the A-list investors and tech executives in the audience.
Allison, 13, and Jennifer, 15, who built an app called Loc8Don8 that helps people donate unwanted household items, already feel like winners. The girls were selected as finalists from a pool of 800 contestants, and they've gotten an early leg up in a field infamous for being unwelcoming to women.
"Technology is a high-growth area that women just do not feel they have access to as leaders and change makers," said Tara Chklovski, founder and CEO of Iridescent, the nonprofit that runs the girls-only Technovation World Pitch Summit where the John sisters will present Thursday. "So these kinds of experiences need to be provided to young girls very early on so you can keep building on them."
Allison and Jennifer are one of two Bay Area teams of finalists. A group of East Bay girls in the separate high school division will pitch their app, NeoSafety, which uses local crime statistics to assign safety ratings to neighborhoods. Team member Lucinda Quintal, a 14-year-old from Castro Valley, said she was inspired by her parents, who often worry about her going out by herself.
The Technovation program, which started in 2010 with 45 participants, challenges girls to build a mobile app that solves a problem in their community. This year's finalists include a sex-ed app from Dallas, an app from Kazakhstan that lets residents report infrastructure and environmental concerns to the authorities and an app from Cameroon that promotes the country's agricultural products.
Allison and Jennifer, both of whom are home-schooled, created Loc8Don8 to address the income inequality they've seen throughout the Bay Area, while simultaneously cutting down on waste. The app takes a user's location and the items he or she wants to dispose of (clothing, toys, etc.) and matches that data with nearby donation centers.
Both girls have been coding since elementary school, but Technovation gave them a chance to do something new. "The appeal was making an app that people would actually use," Jennifer said.
The competition also taught the sisters about entrepreneurship. Mentor Adrian Cockcroft, a technology fellow with Battery Ventures, helped them pivot when their original idea -- an app that tracks the freshness of food in a user's refrigerator -- fell flat. Cockcroft also told them to nix the photo of a polar bear they'd included in their pitch presentation because the girls couldn't get past it without giggling.
The Technovation contestants will take the stage at a time when awareness about gender gaps in tech seems to be at an all-time high. A 2014 study from Babson College found 15 percent of startups that received venture capital funding had a woman on the executive team, and about 3 percent had a female CEO.
Some experts say the discrepancy in part is a pipeline issue -- girls aren't getting involved with math, science and technology at a young age. That's something Jennifer saw two years ago when she took an advanced math class at Stanford University.
"I was one of only about five girls in that class," she said, "so that was definitely a little bit intimidating." Lucinda had the same experience when she joined her school's robotics club.
"I think it's insane," Lucinda said, "because (tech is) so awesome."
Loc8Don8 What it does -- Takes a user's location and the type of items he or she wants to get rid of and finds local donation centers that will accept them. Availability -- For Android on Google Play Cost -- Free Developed by -- Allison John, 13, and Jennifer John, 15, of Redwood City
NeoSafety What it does -- Uses crime data to assign safety ratings to neighborhoods. Availability -- For iPhone and Android on the App Store and Google Play Cost -- Free Developed by -- High school students Lucinda Quintal, of Castro Valley, and Addison Zhang and Helen Li, of San Leandro