Five Rochester middle and high school girls are aiming to improve quality of life with their mobile phone application called Bridge. Team B.A.S.I.C. BALSA- comprised of Anjali Donthi, Simran Sandhu, Audrey Whitney, Alexandra Bancos, and Bailey Klote- placed first in the senior division of a state-wide tech competition. The girls are now making their way through the semifinal round of Minnesota Cup as the new school year approaches.
Bridge helps immigrants, refugees, and visitors locate necessary resources within their new communities like food, shelter, educational resources, and places of worship.
“Most of the members of our team, we have family who are immigrants. So that is how we chose to make an app that solved problems that immigrants faced,” explained Donthi, an incoming tenth grader at Century High School.
Users can search for resources within Bridge using six different languages including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi. Overall, the app aims to improve quality of life. The team hopes to scale Bridge to benefit other communities beyond Rochester.
The Bridge app was coded over fifteen weeks this past school year- primarily by sixth grader Whitney- as part of the Technovation Challenge. Technovation is a global competition that encourages girls to solve problems they encounter in their everyday lives with technology. Throughout the challenge, teams of five work with volunteer mentors to create mobile app “startups”; many teams have no coding experience prior to the competition.
Technovation has proven success of increasing young girls’ interest in coding fields. Fifty-eight percent of Technovation alumni enroll in additional coding classes after the competition. Twenty-six percent of alumni major in computer science in college, compared to the 0.4% national average of first year female computer science majors.
This year, ~19,000 young girls registered for the Technovation Challenge.
The Minnesota branch of the competition, called Technovation[MN], culminated in a statewide competition called Appapalooza in May, where teams showcased their mobile technology and business plan, which included marketing and financial strategies. This year, a record high seventy-five teams competed in Appapalooza, with nine teams moving on to the semi-final round of the global competition.
B.A.S.I.C. BALSA walked away from the state competition as the Senior Division winner, advancing to the Technovation semi-finals. Although their journey with Technovation this season ended in the semi-finals, the team spent the summer refining their business plan and pitch to compete in the Youth Division of Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide business pitch competition in the nation. The girls submitted their application to Minnesota Cup last week and learn if they will advance to the final round on August 21st.
Now, B.A.S.I.C. BALSA is refining their technology, building category filters for optimized searches, and adding additional languages to their app. The girls plan to ultimately turn over ownership of Bridge to Rochester’s Diversity Council for long term maintenance and support.
Overall, the girls of B.A.S.I.C. BALSA said they enjoyed the Technovation experience and plan to continue with the program throughout their middle and high school careers. In addition to learning coding, the competition also taught them teamwork, business development, and other valuable skill sets.
Plus, they just had a good time.
“[Technovation] is really fun and [other girls] should do it because it can be a really good learning experience. If you never ever thought of doing it and you try, maybe you’ll really like it and you can go into the field of coding someday,” said Klote.
Teams from Rochester and southeast Minnesota have historically performed well in the Technovation Challenge. Three years ago, a team of seventh graders from Kasson-Mantorville Middle School were one of four teams that qualified to compete in the Technovation finals in San Francisco. Last year, Rochester high school team SKeMAs finished as runners up in the global semi-final round for their app to minimize distracted driving.