Entrepreneurs wear several hats. Being the boss, filling in the shoes of an employee, some of us even do this on top of being wives and mothers. Now take those responsibilities and add the titles “mentor” and “volunteer.” For some, it may be too much to handle, but for others, like Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sara Schaer, it means fulfilling a deep seeded passion and having a constant reminder as to why you became an entrepreneur in the first place.
Schaer is the founder and CEO of Kango, a San Francisco mobile app based service which provides safe rides and child care services for children ranging in ages from preschool to high school. On a random visit to her son’s school, a guidance counselor pulled her aside and asked if she would be interested in being a part of program mentoring young woman. That program is called Technovation, an international competition where girls from countries like Cameroon, the U.S., India and Kenya, compete and learn the skills needed to succeed as leaders in the field of technology. The competition was founded by Tara Chklovski, CEO of the nonprofit Iridescent, with one statistic in mind: only seven percent of tech startups are currently being founded by women. If they have anything to say about it, that won’t be the case for long.
The young ladies who enter the competition, ranging from ages 10-18, are fierce and focused future entrepreneurs who go through four stages of learning to launch a mobile app. Participants can enter into the program solo or with a team and must come up with a solution to an existing issue that they are passionate about: peace, poverty, equality or the environment, coinciding with this year’s theme, “Code for Change.” They also get to work with additional programming from Google’s “Made with Code” and UN Women. Once an idea is selected, the girls bring it to life with the help of mentors.
After learning all the details of the program, Schaer was hooked. “I said to myself, ‘wow, I wish I had known what this was like at that young impressionable age,’” Schaer said. “Helping girls understand that anything is possible and showing them how to create something from scratch, how do I help?”
With thousands of ideas submitted, a few are selected and the ladies begin to battle it out for the grand prize of $10,000 in funding. In the middle school category, this year’s winners were two sisters from Redwood City, Calif., who created Loc8Don8, an app that makes it simple to find donation centers for different kinds of materials. The high school winners were from Zapopan, Mexico, developing a mobile app called OOL, which connects interested volunteers with local organizations who need assistance. The program is growing in popularity, attracting over 8,000 entries in 2016 and even being featured in the Netflix film, “CodeGirl.” Although the competition is about the development of apps, the main focus is about showing young girls that you can achieve success in technology, something that Schaer said is inspiring.
The bilingual CEO, speaking French and German, has begun mentoring three teams of ninth and tenth grade girls and has teamed up with private school Lycée Français de San Francisco. Recently, Schaer was able to take her mentees to the DropBox’s San Francisco headquarters to pitch their projects.
Since Sara isn’t new to the world of tech startups, working as one of the first employees at the photo sharing startup giant, Snapfish, it was crucial for her to be involved in a program that helps increase interest in STEM subjects and entrepreneurship among females.
“It’s amazing to see these young girls come up with solutions to problems that are so refreshingly different from what grown-ups around me are pitching,” Schaer said.