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CEO Guide to Technology

Turning Girls into Tech Entrepreneurs with a Single App

Diana Gong is only 17 years old, but already she’s had experience creating a mobile app, writing a business plan, and pitching it to venture capitalists. Now she’s working with application developers at LinkedIn to turn a prototype of a mobile phone app into a working product.

Gong and four other high school girls won a competition last year called the Technovation Challenge, which encourages girls to become tech entrepreneurs. Their winning entry was an Android app they created called IOU, which lets students lend items such as clothes and books to friends and keep track of them.

“It’s really different when you’re working on a project outside of school that has real purpose and requires you to really think and innovate,” says Gong, a junior at Mountain View High School in California.

As part of the competition, teams of girls work together for 10 weeks to brainstorm and develop an idea for a mobile phone app. At the end, they create a prototype with online software called App Inventor, according to Jeri Countryman, director of curriculum at Iridescent, the nonprofit organization that runs the contest.

The teams present their work to venture capital judges at regional and national pitch events. The winning team gets the opportunity to have its app professionally developed for the market.

The Technovation Challenge, which started again last week, reaches out to high school teachers, who recruit students to participate in the event. The contest has grown from 45 girls in 2010 to 230 last year. Organizers expect the number to reach 400 to 500 this year.

Such companies as Microsoft (MSFT), Twitter, Google (GOOG), and LinkedIn (LNKD) are hosting teams of girls and their female mentors and teaching assistants, who will create the apps.

Gong’s team worked two times a week for 10 weeks at Google with an adult mentor, an employee of Google and a teaching assistant who was a student at Stanford.

“I thought it was a really great experience overall to get exposure to the real world,” Gong says.

King is a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco.

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