Inspiring, Mentoring, Teaching, Developing: Technical and Entrepreneurial Skills for Future Generations of Young Women

Information technology is a field where men hold 75 percent of all jobs and nearly 90 percent of the executive positions at Fortune 500 companies. In addition, the percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women has fallen over the decades (Humphrey, 2013)1. Technovation, a global initiative, has set out to change these statistics for girls and inspire their pursuit of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through the annual Technovation Challenge, they are working to inspire and educate girls to solve real-world problems through technology and give them the opportunity to build the confidence needed to break into a field dominated by men. 

Bringing the Technovation Challenge to Minnesota

Two years ago, Minnesota joined this exciting endeavor and created Technovation[MN] to bring the challenge to Minnesota girls. Technovation[MN] is still in its infancy but has already brought together more than 90 mentors from the business community, 25 coaches from 22 schools and more than 120 girls to compete on 28 teams. These teams work together for 12 weeks to dream up ideas that solve a community problem and then design, code and promote a mobile solution. 


Five teams were formed from three Rochester Area Math Science Partnership (RAMSP) districts, and approximately 20 professional mentors were recruited, mostly from Mayo Clinic and IBM. The teams came from Rochester’s St. Francis, Friedell and Kellogg schools and Kasson-Mantorville Middle School. The local chapter of the Black Data Processing Associates sponsored a multi-school team at Century High School, which included students from John Marshall and Mayo High Schools.

Kasson-Mantorville Middle School Team Competes in a Global Event

On June 24-25, 2015, 10 teams across the world competed in the Technovation World Pitch event in San Francisco, California. There were nearly 400 mobile apps developed by young women to solve local/community problems from 28 countries. The 10 finalists came to California from Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria and the United States. One of the United States teams—The Furst Class Techies—hailed from Kasson-Mantorville and walked away with the Audience Choice Award and an Honorable Mention in the Middle School Division.    

The Furst Class Techies—students Andrea Richard, Rylee Melius and Lydia Mindermann—are coached by Sharie Furst, a STEM teacher at Kasson-Mantorville Middle School, and mentored by Kris Kendall, a software engineer at IBM Rochester. They developed an app called “Mayo Freetime” to help Mayo Clinic patients from outside of Rochester navigate their free time between medical appointments and, more importantly, help them (and their families) to reduce stress, anxiety, boredom, sadness and/or loneliness. 

So how did these local ladies make it to the finals to present to judges from Yahoo, Yelp, Google, Hackbright Academy and the Foundation? It started with a good idea, but it came down to dedication, commitment, teamwork, a strong coach and mentor and supportive local and regional resources. 

Girls in this program gain experience and knowledge in technology design and development, competitive market analysis and planning, branding development and promotion, presentation and “pitch” and comprehensive business planning. Their skillsets far supersede bringing a mobile app to fruition—they become skills to use at any junction in career development.

Southeast Minnesota Region to Develop Core Team

With the success bounding from the first “pilot” year of participation, RAMSP is developing a core leadership team for 2016. They are actively seeking students, coaches and mentors within their 13 K-12 partner schools, Rochester Community and Technical College, University of Minnesota-Rochester, Winona State University-Rochester, the Rochester Workforce Development Center, IBM and Mayo Clinic. Find out what you can do to become involved by contacting Richard Bogovich, executive director of RAMSP or 507-250-2611.

Jenee M. Cummings is a freelance writer in the Rochester area.

1Humphrey, Katie. (2013, October 1). Still outnumbered, women strive to tap into tech industry. The Star Tribune,