International exchange alumni Amina Gerba and Stephanie Jecrois first met during an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in 2013 that took them to Silicon Valley. Inspired by the spirit of innovation and collaboration in the United States, Amina and Stephanie returned to Montreal enthused, and they teamed up to launch the first-ever Technovation Challenge for young girls interested in technology and entrepreneurship.
Montreal’s “Technovation Challenge” launched on March 14, 2015 with a day-long kick-off event to demystify the high tech industry and encourage enthusiasm for science and technology to a group of 50 girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
For 12 weeks, the girls, with the help of tech professionals and alumni mentors, will develop prototype apps and business plans, which they will use to compete in an international competition. The winners will travel to San Francisco to pitch their concepts to the Silicon Valley start-up community for a chance at winning a $10,000 grand prize to fund their start-up idea.
Stephanie and Amina saw the value of bringing such a program to their home town of Montreal, with its large student population and burgeoning high tech entrepreneurship scene.
“The Technovation Challenge is a way for girls to realize the impact they can have in society by creating solutions to issues in their communities,” Stephanie says. “In so doing, they will evolve from mere tech users into agents for change. Our ambition is to contribute to entrepreneurial growth in the IT sector in Montreal.”
The international exchange did more than just inspire Stephanie and Amina to bring technology to young girls—it allowed them to expand their professional network globally and incorporate social entrepreneurship into their business endeavors.
“I was amazed by the dynamism of women entrepreneurs I met and the various structures set up by the U.S. government to support them,” says Amina. “This is one reason that led me to establish a subsidiary of my company [Kariliss Laboratories Inc. a manufacturer of haircare products] in Florida upon my return to Canada. The experience also encouraged me to create a micro-credit community (Credicom) to help fund women producers of shea butter (a raw material used in cosmetics) in Burkina Faso, West Africa.”