Technovation: The Start of Their Entrepreneurial Journey
Since sixth grade, Christianna had wanted to participate in Technovation—but she didn’t want to do it alone, and so for many years it remained an unfulfilled New Year’s resolution. But after participating in a coding workshop with other girls from her high school, Christianna approached them with the idea. They said yes and became the EcoDefenders. That invitation would turn out to be the first step towards launching their own social enterprise.
Chistianna’s new teammates weren’t new to coding—they had all taken IT classes and some were members of the IT club at their school—but the business and entrepreneurship side of the Technovation Girls curriculum was something they had less experience with. The girls had to come up with a business plan and a revenue model for their app for the competition. Those initial plans became the foundation that helped them bring their idea to life after the competition. “We had little to do when developing it further, because Technovation had already helped us to think through the nitty-gritty.”
One of the things that inspired the girls to continue working on their idea after the program ended was the encouraging feedback from the judges in the competition. Pieces of judges’ feedback even became part of their social media strategy! After launching accounts to help their enterprise grow, one of their first posts was a recap of the judges comments. One judge told them, “Overall, you did such an excellent job, from selecting an issue that’s not only important to the world, but also specifically to your community, to coming up with an innovative way to address it, to clearly putting a lot of detailed work into your app, videos, and business plan! It was great to see your future plans from improvements to the app to your beta testing plan to your marketing plan, etc. I really think you will be successful with this app and I can’t wait to see it in the app store one day soon!” (see the full post and read more judges’ comments). The girls explained a bit more about what the feedback, attention, and support from adults meant to them. “The judges helped us see that we have something here that deserves to go beyond the prototype.”
The Next Phase: Their Big Idea Wins Big
The team credits Technovation as the catalyst for their entrepreneurial endeavors. “Technovation was a space to develop big ideas. It gave us the opportunity to be brave and put ourselves out there.” Participating in Technovation Girls also pushed the team to seek out other opportunities. “Technovation allowed us to realize that there is more that we can do – there are more grants, other organizations, and opportunities that we can take advantage of. It led us to where we are today.”
Two years after participating in the Technovation Girls competition, three of the five girls, now young women, ZebadiJah, Kyanna, and Mhea, are working in and/or studying ICT, and the other two, Kyra and Christianna, are studying business specializing in finance and entrepreneurship respectively. Oh, and they’ve also officially incorporated and launched their Technovation app “WePlanet” as a nonprofit social enterprise, participated in an incubator, won $5,000 in a regional competition across the Caribbean, and placed as a finalist in an international youth innovation challenge.
First, Christianna, representing the team, was chosen to participate in the first cohort of the Dominica Youth Business Trust Social Enterprise Incubator, which was a six month program to help social entrepreneurs turn their ideas into business models. Out of the five social entrepreneurs selected from across the country, she was the youngest, the only one with a technological idea, and the only one tackling an environmental issue. Through this program, the team connected with mentors, participated in and won a pitch competition, and were eventually able to officially register WePlanet as a nonprofit corporation in Dominica. They just celebrated their first year of being an incorporated entity on March 8—which also happens to be International Women’s Day. Next, among over 750 applicants, the team won the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States’ Island Ideas Challenge for which they were awarded $5,000. Most recently, the team placed as a finalist in the international Youth Innovation Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Global Environmental Education Partnership seeking innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues.
Bringing their App to Market —And Supermarkets!
So what is WePlanet? It’s a social enterprise that aims to raise environmental consciousness through innovative, incentive-based solutions. With over 1,000 monthly visitors, the WePlanet mobile web app provides a platform where small actions lead to big change.The app has five main features:
- Eco-Points – This is a loyalty points system where users can earn points for shopping with a reusable bag, purchasing eco-friendly products or doing any other eligible eco-action. Users just scan a QR code at the check-out of participating supermarkets and businesses. Dominica put a plastic bag ban into effect several years ago, but enforcement is lacking and the bags are still widely used around the island. WePlanet currently has 11 Eco-Partners across the island with 5 of them being major supermarkets, 3 small businesses and 3 corporate partners. In the coming months, WePlanet aims to onboard additional supermarkets as they prepare to scale. After users earn 3 eco-points, users are automatically entered into quarterly raffles for prizes such as shopping vouchers.
- Eco-Spots: This is where the app’s Eco-Partners are listed, serving to highlight environmentally-conscious businesses throughout the island.
- Eco-Challenges: These are unique, environmentally-focused challenges for users to participate in and win prizes. For example, the last challenge invited users to submit photos and short reflections of something that reminded them of environmental sustainability with the chance to win an Amazon gift card. A previous challenge encouraged users to upload a 1-minute video representing WePlanet’s motto, “Small actions. Big change.”, for a chance to win a cash prize.
- Eco-Warriors: This section shares the stories of the winners of the eco-challenges and is a hub for eco-friendly videos and images.
- Eco-Learn: This is an educational blog where users can learn more about environmental issues and how they can live a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle.
In a short-time, the team has accomplished a lot, but they have big visions for WePlanet’s future too, including expanding across and beyond the island. Their biggest challenge at the moment is growing their Eco-Partners and user-base, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
To recruit more businesses, the team initially reaches out to a business via phone or email and tries to set up a Zoom call where they give a prepared presentation on WePlanet. They’ve said that the overall reaction from businesses has been incredibly positive and that most businesses they’ve spoken with are proud to support young social entrepreneurs on the island. There can be some initial hesitation for businesses when talking to business owners about bringing in a new technology, but the team is usually able to overcome that by reassuring them that the QR code doesn’t need to interfere with their normal operations or point-of-sale system.
In the future, the team hopes to monetize the app through in-app advertising, but in order to do that, they need a larger user-base. To grow their users, the team is experimenting with different marketing strategies including social media, sign-up incentive promotions, and pop-up events. Last fall, they conducted a promotional eco-challenge offering new users who signed up for the app and earned eco-points a chance to be entered into a raffle for a season pass to Dominca’s World Creole Music festival. For the pop-ups, on the weekend, during peak shopping hours, they set up a table outside of one of their eco-partners where they hand out brochures and try to get new users to sign up on the spot. Here they are recruiting beta-testers at one of the local supermarkets:
Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
In looking back on their entrepreneurial journey, the young women had some insightful advice for other girls looking to bring their Technovation apps to market.
“Just go for it.” Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t let fear hold you back from achieving your dreams, but instead have the discipline and consistency to keep pushing forward and put yourself out there. Remember, “closed mouths don’t get fed,” and when you do fail or something doesn’t work out, don’t be too hard on yourself.
“Don’t try to fight your entrepreneurial battles on your own.” Ensure that your team uplifts each other. Know that you can’t do everything yourself and have the humility to seek out support from advisors and mentors.
“Be flexible and open-minded.” Being an entrepreneur requires you to be flexible and adaptable, as things won’t always work out the way you initially planned. You’ll also get feedback and criticism along the way, but be open enough to take the negative comments and learn from them so that you can improve and do better the next time.
And if you want to learn about other problems girls around the world are solving, consider volunteering as a Technovation Girls Judge! Registration recently opened, and you can complete your training and project evaluations on your own schedule. Learn more and sign up.