Technovation Challenge

Where are the #girlsintech? Right here at Technovation. Follow these young women entrepreneurs as they create the next great mobile app.

What Most Schools Don’t Teach - Short Film 


Look closely and see some Technovation girls featured!

This week’s guest blog post is by Samantha Quist, Founder of Copywriter Central.

Imagine you’re writing a book report, but you haven’t actually read the book. Your friends have told you what the book is about. You know the main characters’ names and ages, and you can kind of guess what sorts of things might happen to them. But since book reports are generally graded on your attention to detail, understanding of the nuances of the characters’ predicaments, and interest in the finer points of the story, you won’t get the top grade. If you’re a really great writer, you might squeeze by with a B or a C; but to earn an A+, you’ve got to start reading the book.

Designing a product without studying your target users is a lot like writing a book report without reading the book. You can guess what your users might think of it, but they’ll often surprise you. And in the competitive world of technology startups, B’s and C’s are not passing grades. The only way to build a successful and sustainable company is to produce A-level work. Here’s how.

"Designing a product without studying your target users is a lot like writing a book report without reading the book."

Your First Idea Is Not an “A-Grade” Idea

When we first think of a product, almost all of us start off with a C-grade idea. We think of something that seems like it would be useful to a lot of people. So we draw up some mockups. Some of us might even put up a static landing page online that promotes our still-fictional “product.” That’s great! But the toughest part is yet to come.

First, think really hard about who your target user is — how old is the person you think is most likely to truly love your product? What interests do they have? Are they male or female? Are they students or professionals? What characteristics do they have? It’s tempting to think that your app will be useful for everyone, but for 99% of apps, your most loyal users will all share a pretty specific set of characteristics. And if you show your app to the wrong audience, they will almost always give you bad advice.

"…it doesn’t matter what your parents think of your idea, or what your best friend thinks, or what your dog thinks… unless they are truly one of your target users."

For example, imagine showing a mockup of YouTube to an attorney in her office and asking how she’d use it to get work done. Look, you say, lots of dog and cat and music videos! In the mindset of work, she’d correctly tell you that it won’t be useful to lawyers, and she might suggest you should add some scheduling or productivity or legal research features to the product. You’d probably leave her office feeling discouraged. But in reality, it isn’t that YouTube is a bad idea, it’s just a bad idea for that type of user and for that use case. If you show your mockup to dog- and cat- and music- lovers who use the internet a lot, have a high-speed connection, and like to be entertained, then you’d get much better advice. So, it doesn’t matter what your parents think of your idea, or what your best friend thinks, or what your dog thinks… unless they are truly one of your target users.

You Are a Detective— Uncover Your Users’ Needs and Wants

Next, go find a bunch of people — at least 3 and the more, the better — who truly are your target users. Show them your mockups and/or landing page. Ask them for their honest, no holds barred feedback. Ask them if they’d ever use your app, how often, in what situations, and what for. Ask if they would choose your app instead of other apps, or if they would prefer other apps, and why. Ask how much they would pay right now for the app if they could buy it today. Ask what’s least useful about your app. Think of yourself as a detective, trying to uncover your real target users’ needs and wants. Try to put yourself in their shoes, understand their needs and concerns, and think as they would think. As you talk to more target users, update your mockups to reflect what you’ve learned. Your goal is to develop a mockup that evokes an “OMG. I need this now. Where can I get it today?” sort of reaction. When you’ve heard that from several target users, then you know you’ve landed on an A+ idea.

When you talk with target users, also try to understand which of your product’s features are the most critical. Sophisticated technology products have zillions of features built-in, but no product starts out that way. Early stage products have just a core set of mission-critical features that their users really need. Imagine if YouTube were launched with sharing features built-in, but without a video play button — that wouldn’t be very useful! Make sure you know which parts of your mockups are truly critical to your target user’s needs, versus all the rest.

Your goal is to develop a mockup that evokes an ‘OMG. I need this now. Where can I get it today?’ sort of reaction. When you’ve heard that from several target users, then you know you’ve landed on an A+ idea.”

Finally, after you feel you truly understand your target user and you’ve refined your mockups to reflect what they most urgently want or need, comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for… it’s time to build your product! Use your most updated mockups and build exactly what’s in them. Try to avoid adding features or new ideas at this point — just build what your target users told you they wanted.

Watch Your Users In Action

And now, the moment of truth — it’s time to show your real product to your target users and get their feedback. Sit next to them, stay silent, and watch them use your product as if you weren’t there. When they’re actually using the real thing, they might have slightly different reactions than they did when they saw your mockups. They might get confused by certain buttons or language or details. They might tell you that they can’t live without certain features that they didn’t mention before. Whatever they tell you, take notes. And when you’ve talked to a few different target users, go back and polish your product based on their feedback.

You Are Never Finished Testing Your Users

User testing is an ongoing process. You’re never done user testing. Whether you’re a small scrappy startup or a billion-dollar company, you’re always testing your users to make sure you’re building the right tools for them. Big corporations spend enormous amounts of money hiring professional user testing teams, though I’m not sure their tactics are any more effective than having one-on-one conversations with members of your target audience yourself.

In my startup, we’re always testing our users, then tweaking our product, then testing our users, and so on. When it comes to improving our product, there is simply no substitute for genuine feedback from members of our true target audience. So, it’s a good thing it’s also fun: watching real people enjoy something you’ve built is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

"You’re never done user testing… you’re always testing your users to make sure you’re building the right tools for them."

In Summary: Study Your Users

So remember, to earn that A+ book report, there’s no substitute for actually studying the book. And to build a successful and sustainable technology product, there’s no match for carefully studying your target users.

If you’re building a technology product, you are striving to learn new things, and you are working hard to bring something good or fun or convenient into the world that didn’t exist before, then I salute you. You are working to make the world a better place, and all of us will benefit from your efforts. I wish you a satisfying journey and great success!



About the Author:

Samantha Quist is the founder and CEO of Copywriter Central, an online marketplace for elite freelance business writers. She also founded an editorial business, led marketing for a fast-growing internet startup, served on Google’s Product Management team, and graduated with honors from Stanford University. Samantha is passionate about leveraging technology to make the world a better place.

We had an amazing time presenting at the Dare 2B Digital conference over the weekend in Redwood City, CA. Throughout the day we worked with middle and high school students, and had them create paper prototypes. Girls worked in teams, developed paper prototypes, and then pitched them in front of their class.

Some of our favorites were ideas were: “Plantsopedia” an app that allows users to identify plants while they are hiking using image recognition, “Wild Thing” which allows users to merge an image of their face with that of a wild animal, and “Travelate” which scans and translates signs and other written material in real time for travelers visiting foreign countries. 

Have any cool app ideas? Share with us!


With Technovation Challenge’s 4th season underway, teams around the world are preparing for the 12-week course by completing five App Inventor tutorials known as “Hack Day”. Check out part 2 of our Hack Days Around the World Series below!

Technovation Canada - University of Regina (Saskatchewan)

Excerpt and photo below from article by Daryl Hepting, Professor, Computer Science Department.


Even with short notice, our App Inventor Hack Day was a success. Having time out of school, with good pizza for lunch, definitely put the event on a good footing for students. But then they also learned a lot and had a great time doing it. Participants came from LeBoldus High School and the Regina Huda School.

Only some of the young women have studied Computer Science at their high schools, but all were able to have success with the App Inventor tool.  We worked on 3 applications (pictured here as seen in the emulator; we had some actual Android devices to work with during the event)  during our time:

  • CrystalBall: used the accelerometer to detect shaking (to indicate that a question had been asked) and then picked a random answer to display (sorry, the crystal ball is not actually all-knowing).
  • PaintPot: draw points of different sizes and colours, as well as lines, by touching or dragging a finger on the screen. Not shown here is that the camera can be used to take a picture that can then be “enhanced” with some colourful doodles.
  • MoleMash: a game that moves the mole around the screen and tracks how many times it is touched (vibrating each time and keeping score).

… .and we even had time to visit Computer Science professor David Gerhard’s 207 Project Demo Day.

As the day progressed, the examples included more advanced concepts – while remaining accessible. A nice feature of the App Inventor platform is that it uses the programmer’s Google account to store all the code (pictured, CrystalBall – Designer and Blocks Editor), so all the work done at the lab can be carried on anywhere else with an internet connection.  The emulator is the only bit of software that needs to be installed on the computer.  As you can tell, it is easy to go from design of an interface, to assembling blocks that perform the actions specified on the interface, and creating a final application that can reside on an Android device, just like any other. That control of technology is very powerful and it is available through computer science.

The deadline for teams of 4-5 girls to register for the Technovation Challenge 2013 (February-April) is December 15. This is a great opportunity to do some exciting computer science, but also be exposed to business planning and public speaking. We are working to get all the pieces in place to support all interested teams.  For example, we’re looking at running other  “Hack Day” sessions to get other groups up to speed.

Technovation Ukraine (post from P2PU)


Technovation India (post from P2PU)




Technovation Yemen (post from P2PU)



Technovation Brazil



Technovation San Francisco Bay Area, CA (U.S.A)



Technovation New York City, NY (U.S.A.)



Teachnovation Denver, CO (U.S.A.)


Technovation Nigeria



Iridescent Team Hack Day, Boston, Chicago, NYC, SF (U.S.A.)image


This week’s mentor is Katherine, a veteran Technovation mentor working with a team at the Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco. We are lucky to have Katherine as our SF mentor coordinator this year, as she’s done a fabulous job organizing events for our mentors in the Bay Area. Katherine currently works at Boku as a product manager.


Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? What was your school experience like? Include anything else you’d like to share about your youth.

I grew up next to the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO. I enjoyed most of my classes in school, but I never was a big fan of history. As I started high school, I started to notice that math was one of my favorite subjects - I loved the satisfaction of realizing that math could help solve real problems in the world. Outside of school, I was a Girl Scout (all the way through high school!) and loved painting. I also played volleyball for 4 years in high school and played doubles volleyball outside during the summers.

After high school, I went to college to study engineering. I wanted to learn skills which would let me have an impact in the world, and I thought it was neat that engineering focuses on building stuff that people actually use. I chose Electrical and Computer Engineering, because I thought the iPhone was really cool and wanted to learn more about both the hardware (the electrical chips in the phone) and the software (the goo used to build apps!).

What was it like studying engineering in college? What did you like most about your classes?

Studying engineering was one of the best decisions I have made. :) The classes are hard, but it’s ok not to know everything in the beginning. I remember some of my classes had really intimidating names like “quantum mechanics”, but I learned to develop a growth mindset. I reminded myself that the whole point of attending college is to learn something new. And man, did I learn new things! I learned how solar panels work, how cell phones send and receive text messages in just seconds across the globe, and how Twitter can process millions of tweets all over the world.

I have so many fond memories from college. When I wasn’t busy studying or working with friends on homework sets or in the lab, I went to football games, parties, concerts, speakers…everything! It sounds silly now, but you will need naps occasionally in college — it’s exhausting working and playing so much. One my favorite ways to spend an afternoon was to get a cup of coffee and nap on the grass in the sun, with the Colorado mountains as the backdrop.

What did you learn in school that is valuable to you today?

I don’t use many of the specific skills I learned in school (e.g. how to write a sonnet, the causes for the Civil War), but I still use many math fundamentals on a day to day. For example, I need to analyze data for Boku products all the time. I ask questions like: How many people paid by mobile last month? What was the average amount they spent? What is the distribution of places they paid (e.g. Facebook - 40%, Zynga 10%)?

How did you get your job now? What do you like the most about it?

Now I work at Boku, a mobile payments startup, in downtown San Francisco. After finishing college, I knew that I wanted my first job to be exciting and challenge me each day. Startups are a great way to develop a broad skill set quickly. I work with an engineering team to find and build ways for people to pay with their cell phone…but I also get to do about 100 other things! I build presentations to pitch new ideas to people inside and outside of the company, I attend conferences around the world to learn more about mobile payments, I crunch numbers to learn how people use Boku and how it can be improved, and I solve tough problems on a whiteboard daily with my team. The people and team are my favorite part - they make work fun and motivating each day!

It sounds like you get to do a lot more than just programming in your job. What’s the coolest conference you’ve attended and why?

I got to go to a conference about Near-Field Communication (NFC) payments in Nice, France! A week long conference on the beaches of southern France? Sign me up!

Wow! That sounds incredible. What has been your favorite part of Technovation Challenge?

Technovation 2013 is just beginning, but I loved meeting my team the first week at Immaculate Conception Academy high school. We brainstormed app ideas our first week, and I was uber-impressed at how many creative ideas they have. I have always thought women are particularly good at identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions that help real people. :)

What advice do you have for Technovation girls who are new to the program?

I know that sometimes it can be tempting to only work on projects where you feel comfortable. For example, I used to volunteer to do the written part of group projects, since I felt like I was good at it. A big part of Technovation is to learn some new things (e.g. learn how to code an Android app, learn how to create a business plan). Trying new things can sometimes feel scary or uncomfortable, but it’s worth it! Twelve weeks from now, you will be really proud of what you accomplished. Don’t be afraid to try out new things and make some mistakes. It’s part of the fun and your team and mentor have your back :)

That’s great advice. Can you tell us about about a time when you had to step out of your comfort zone?

I moved from Boulder, Colorado to San Francisco after college. Now I know how to get around and live in a big city. But my first few months, I was nervous and had a lot of learning to do. I never took public transit much in Colorado or worked in skyscrapers downtown. I also took a big risk by joining a startup instead of a more established company like Google or Microsoft. Startups have a lot of unknowns, and there is rarely someone to tell you what to do or how to do things. Sometimes I feel like I’m making it up! haha. But ultimately, I know that being out of my comfort zone is how I learn new things and overcome new challenges. Startups are unpredictable, but often have happily surprised me too. Now I thrive in ambiguous situations at work, but it has taken time and a lot of stepping out of my comfort zone to get there. :)


Do you have a rockstar mentor who you would like to nominate for our “Mentor Spotlight”? Email her name to Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week’s feature mentor!


Our first “Mentor Spotlight” features a very special mentor. Her name is Cassandra, and we know her from her participation in the Technovation a few years back— as a student! Cassy is now a sophomore at Stonehill College in Massachusetts (where she studies computer science!) and is mentoring a team of girls at Needham High School.


You were once a Technovation student. Can you tell us what stands out to you most about your experience participating in Technovation?

What stands out to me the most is the fact that I am not one of the students anymore! The girls were telling me what they wanted to get out of this experience and what they were nervous about doing, and their responses made me flashback to when I was one of them. Everything they were feeling was exactly how I felt when I first started Technovation. That realization felt incredible because this time around, I get to watch these girls accomplish something that matters.

When you were a going through the program as a student, what app did your team create? 

My team and I created a voice-to-text app in real time. My favorite part was when we were sharing our app ideas…I got to know and understand my teammates better and become comfortable with them as we were going through the selection process.

Why did you decide to become a mentor for Technovation?

The Technovation Challenge had a huge impact on my life and I wanted to give back and be a part of Technovation again. I knew as a mentor, I would be able to watch these girls find inspiration in accomplishing something that they might have never done before. Yesterday I met with the girls for the first time and I was very nervous about my first time mentoring. I had so many “what ifs.” But when I was getting to know the girls, sharing my experience with them and watching them as they worked, I learned that by putting myself out there and believing in myself, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

What is it like to study computer science in college?

It is definitely challenging but that is what makes it worthwhile. Learning about a specific type of code is one thing but actually applying it to a program is a whole different thing. But I have to say the most rewarding part of it all is when I am having trouble figuring out how to code a program and, when I get stuck, fixing errors. I love when I have to take apart my program and rewrite it because it allows me to take a different approach on it.  The feeling of accomplishment I get when the program ends up working is the part that makes it worthwhile.

What do you like best about college?

The freedom, of course. But also, the responsibility that comes with the freedom.  I am from San Francisco, so going to college in Massachusetts represents a new chapter in my life that I get to control and create.

What advice do you have for Technovation girls who are new to the program?

I would definitely say it is perfectly fine to feel nervous about coding for the first time, sharing your ideas, writing up a business plan or pitching your app. I felt nervous about every single one of those. But the most rewarding part of it all was when I was actually doing them. Your ideas, your collaboration, and everything you do matters. All the girls participating are role models to others who may be afraid to put themselves out there.


Do you have a rockstar mentor who you would like to nominate for our “Mentor Spotlight”? Email her name to Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week’s feature mentor!

The Aga Khan Education Board for Canada in conjunction with Technovation launched launched Technovation Challenge in Canada at an event at the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby on Saturday, December 8, 2012.

Distinguished women leaders in technology (industry and academia) attended a networking and mentor recruitment event featuring a panel discussion entitled “Leadership Stories”. Anar Simpson, Global Ambassador for Technovation Challenge gave a special introduction.

Leadership Stories Panelists (pictured above):

  • Frenny Bawa, Senior Business Executive, Former VP Global Business Development, RIM
  • Karimah Es Sabar, President & CEO, Centre for Drug Research & Development
  • Alexandra Fedorova, Associate Professor, School of Computing Science, SFU
  • Cybele Negris, Co-Founder and President, Inc.
  • Shaherose Charania, CEO and Co-Founder, Women 2.0
  • Louise Turner, President, Premier’s Technology Council
  • Kimberly Voll, Faculty, Centre for Digital Media

We are excited about our first international Technovation Challenge team!

With Technovation Challenge’s 4th season underway, teams around the world are preparing for the 12-week course by completing five App Inventor tutorials known as “Hack Day”

Check out part-1 of our “Hack Days Around the World” series and see out what our teams have been up to!

About the Blogger

Winstina Hughes graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Planning and Public Policy from Rutgers University. She is currently a graduate student pursuing a Master of City and Regional Planning degree at Rutgers. She has covered Planning and Community Development as a journalist. Part of today’s group of volunteers she interviews two young teens about what motivated them to come today, and what they learned from their experience.

Visit Winstina’s website to read more of her interviews. You can reach her via email her at


Melissa Brinksma is 17 years old. She lives in New Jersey.  She is super dedicated to learning about developing apps, waking up at 7:30am to drive to the Bronx for today’s session. She came with her friend, and her dad. She didn’t know what to expect.  


What motivated you to come today Melissa?

I am thinking about making my own website. A traveling website for teenagers. My dad helped me come up with the idea, and I thought this program would help me build it.

What did you hope to achieve from attending today’s program?

I was hoping to get more knowledge on how to build apps than I did before.

What was your favorite project?

My favorite project was the PaintPot. I like how I figured out how to use different colors and thickness. I figured out that if I put one different variable up the whole project would be different.

What variable did you play with?

The start x,y variable. If I used the start variable it was different than the current variable.

What one new thing did you learn about yourself today while working on this?

I am really impatient. I don’t like to wait on things. As I was working on the mole project I got frustrated because it wasn’t working the right way.

What did you do to fix it?

I had to try using different variables to see which one worked best.

So it sounds like you problem solved. Would you say that problem solving is a skill that you learned?

Yea. Definitely.

Using the skills today on app development will be different from coding your own website. How can you apply your new skills to your website project?

Using app functions could help with my website. My website can have different functions like my app can have. And if I wanted to make an app for my website, I know how to make it.

Is there an app that you could think of right now that would complement your website?

My app would have different options for identifying the right hotel for you. An option would be to see if the hotel has a pool. Another option would be, if they were going to another country, to see if the hotel has food from home.

The website idea you have come up with is going to solve a problem in your life. How would you convince another teen that they need your app?

If their parents ever plan a trip, with my website and app they could help plan where to go and what to do while they are there.

Was today’s session what you thought it would be?

I thought today would be more like a class rather than group work. The apps that we made today were more fun than I thought they would be.


Rebecca Feldman created quite the buzz at today’s event. Seriously. We all surrounded her android for a go at her app design. She has an awareness of what is entertaining, and how to create an app that does just that. Rebecca loves Legos, computer programming, robotics and science. She lives in Forest Hills, Queens with her cat, and her parents. She is 11 years old.


What motivated you to come today Rebecca?

Rebecca and Carl from CoderDojo. I go to a lot of the events. They told me that it would be a lot of fun so I came.

What was your favorite project?

It was a tie between the PaintPot and make your own app.

What did you like about PaintPot?

For PaintPot I liked that you could take a picture of anything, and draw on it.

What did you like about creating your own app?

I liked that we got to do what we wanted to. We got to let our imagination take control and follow it.

How did you decide on what app to create?

I was looking at videos on Youtube and I wanted to do something. I saw this video about the hellopur. What it was is that when you poked the picture of the cat it purred. It showed a picture of someone doing it.

Since I really like Domo I wanted to incorporate it in some way. I decided to have a picture of Domo and instead of it making a purring sound it made a sound of me saying the word Domo.

Your app is pretty impressive. I hope we can show it in some way. That said, is there a skill you walked away with from today’s session?

I learned how to do a lot of things today. I learned how to make buttons do things that I want them to do. I made a button that made it so that, when it says do you want to start playing, you press it and the first frame changes to another frame.

Is there an app that you would create?

I would have to think about it, but probably it would be another app with Domo.

What do you like about Domo?

That he’s just really lovable, and cute.

What did you expect to do in today’s session?

I thought that I would come and learn new skills. But I didn’t know I would create my own app!

Note from Iridescent: The NYC Technovation Challenge Hack Day was sponsored by a grant from the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund at the New York Community Trust.