Middle School Girls Like Tech, Too
On Friday, Philadelphia will witness a unique startup scenario: 26 middle school girls will present their very own business prototypes and plans before a panel of mock funders at Villanova University.
But before the budding tech leaders make it to that milestone, they will undergo a week-long entrepreneur summer camp hosted by TechGirlz.
And why bring 26 girls from Philadelphia together to talk tech?
TechGirlz’ founder, Tracey Welson-Rossman, says that “the revolution of tech starts in Philadelphia.”
For Welson-Rossman, the gendered state of the labor market is a serious issue for our nation’s economy, with girls opting out of technology-related careers around 9th grade. “Women make up 51 percent of the population and the fact that they don’t consider [tech careers] hinders the ability to the country to innovate and grow economically,” she said.
In fact, the share of new female entrepreneurs has fallen from 44 percent to 37 percent since 1997, according to a 2015 study on national startup activity. Women make up only 25 percent of the computing workforce the study found, and a desire to reverse these statistics keeps TechGirlz recruiting more and more girls each year. By engaging middle school girls in different kinds of technology, the nonprofit says it hopes to demonstrate that there is more to a career in tech than software development.
TechGirlz works closely with business accelerators like DreamIt Ventures and StartupCorps to create lessons that help 13 to 15 year old girls develop new business ideas in a professional, team environment. At last summer’s camp, participants developed “Hazard Protector,” a personal safety app, “Sportique,” lightweight sports training wearables, and “Rapid Rescue,” an app to help owners find their lost pets.
With the program in its fifth year, a new alumni program will bring former campers back to share testimonies and showcase the projects they implemented following their time at camp.
“Being Philly born and bred, I think it’s important in our hometown to understand that there are very few programs like this in the country,” Welson-Rossman said, “We are not only incubating this program here in Philly, we’re also growing, and we have so many people internationally who are looking at our program to use it in larger ways.”
TechGirlz will keep the momentum going after camp by developing a teen advisory board to give high school girls the opportunity to play a role in future program development.