Meet Edina's Hometown Heroes

Edina is made up of people who pride themselves with making the city a great place for living, learning, raising families and doing business.

Ava Gorius, Maggie Kirchner, Emily More and Sofie Shand

May 2015 -- While everyone uses mobile apps, few people have ever tried their hand at creating one. Most dismiss this as beyond the reach of anyone without an advanced degree in computer science or software engineering. Four seventh-grade students from Valley View Middle School would tell you otherwise, though. For them, app coding is just another Thursday’s work.

Ava Gorius, Maggie Kirchner, Emily More and Sofie Shand joined forces earlier this year to compete in Technovation[MN], a statewide initiative to encourage teenage girls to dream up, code and promote new and innovative software with real-world applications. Technovation started in response to a push from industry professionals to give more young girls positive early exposure to their field. Despite recent strides, women remain underrepresented among tech entrepreneurs and in the technology workforce more generally.

Shand heard about the program while taking a class through CoderDojo Twin Cities, a free coding club for aspiring young developers. She convinced her friends to join a team and persuaded her dad, Daniel, to serve as coach.

Over 12 weeks, the girls met every Thursday for three-hour sessions. They learned coding basics from modules created by Technovation’s organizers, all in preparation for building a mobile app of their own using App Inventor, an open-source platform created for Android by a team at MIT.

The team, dubbed “Fab 4 Below,” stumbled across a promising concept early. “Our app is called Give & Take. It is sort of like Uber, but for volunteering,” explained Gorius.

“That idea originally came from our friend’s sister, who needed volunteer hours to graduate, but was having difficulty finding volunteer opportunities,” added Shand. “Give & Take leverages another popular app, Eventbrite, as its platform … Rather than event tracking, which it usually does, our app creates an easy way both for volunteers to find opportunities and for anyone to get help.”

Besides coding tutorials, the team also invested many hours in market and product research to ensure that Give & Take is well suited to meet this growing need.

In addition, as part of the Technovation curriculum, the girls tried their hand at creating video pitches, and had the chance to showcase their new app in front of nearly 400 people at the Minneapolis Convention Center during Technovation[MN]’s annual Appapalooza conference. Twenty-eight teams competed at the middle and high school levels. Fab 4 Below came away with a special commendation for Best Pitch.

While the course is officially over, the girls have further plans for Give & Take. All want to invest more time in completing the app and seeing it go public – first in the Google Play Store for Android devices, and eventually in the Apple App Store for iPhone users. All four are also excited to invent additional mobile apps in the future.

“I think that the girls started out thinking coding was some sort of unknown magic,” explained Daniel Shand who, while he served as coach, had no prior coding experience and did none of the actual work on Give & Take. “In the end, they were surprised at how easy coding can be, and found it to be just another way to solve a set of problems. Most importantly, they learned the power of working together and solving problems in a collaborative environment.”
 

1 of 64  Heroes

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