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Technovation Challenge's Emilie Robert Wong Encourages Girls To "Hammer Up!"

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Since winning the first Technovation Challenge, Emilie Robert Wong has developed three more apps (two for Michelle Obama's Healthy Kids initiative and one with an ecology theme), interned at two tech start-ups and is currently working for LocAid. She is currently a high school junior in San Francisco and has served as a Technovation TA and is the founding president of the Technovation Club at her high school. Emilie received the 2012 Bay Area "Aspirations in Computing" award.

This is a transcript of Emilie Robert Wong's speech at Technovation Challenge National Pitch Night on May 3, 2012 in Santa Clara, California:

Good evening. My name is Emilie Robert Wong, and I am a junior and president of the Technovation Club at Lycee Francais La Perouse, a French high school in San Francisco.

Yes, this year Technovation has already started to go global. As Thomas Friedman proclaimed: technology is leveling the playing field, and the world is flat! This is the first year Lycee Francais La Perouse has competed in the Technovation Challenge, and I am proud that one of our teams is here tonight at Nationals. Bonne chance - good luck to all the teams!

Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, I just took technology for granted. I never really thought about hardware design or software programming or the nitty-gritty of how technology came to be. I have a multicultural heritage and speak four languages, but the language of technology was completely foreign to me. Technovation changed all that. After the intensive 10 week course, I truly was ready to be not just a consumer of technology, but a creator of technology. Technovation covers every aspect of developing and pitching an app from start to finish, empowering young women to bring their entrepreneurial dreams to life.

When I was 14 years old, three of my classmates and I won the very first Technovation Challenge. It's hard to believe that was only three years ago. Only in Silicon Valley would this kind of exponential growth happen. As I look around the auditorium tonight, I feel more strongly than ever that we ARE the future of technology.

The statistics are daunting. Most startups fail and 95 out of 100 are led by men. Hmmm...I wonder, are those two facts related? Anyway, I am so glad that one of those five women, Anu Tewary, decided that those statistics needed to change, and I am so grateful to the entire tech community, men and women, for their support of Technovation.

In Chinese, we say: Nǚrén néng dǐng bàn biān tiān - 女人能顶半边天 - "women hold up half the sky". Technovation recognizes that technology needs the talents of both men and women.

While the harsh reality is that most startups fail, Technovation teaches success. Research on "serial entrepreneurship" shows that the younger entrepreneurs start, the more likely they are to try again whether they succeed or fail in their first venture. Most startups don't even get funding, but for those that do: success does breed success (and by success, I mean an IPO).

The rate of success for entrepreneurs who have previously succeeded with new ventures is 27% while success with first-time entrepreneurs is 14%. But interestingly, failure also breeds success. Success for entrepreneurs who have previously failed is 18%, significantly higher than for first-time entrepreneurs, AND serial entrepreneurs are more likely to get funding from the same VCs that funded their first venture at even better terms the second time around, even if the first startup failed.

Skill is the most important factor, but persistence is also significant. You have zero chance of succeeding or honing your skills if you give up after your first failure. One of the first computer programmers and the inventor of the basis for COBOL, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, gave this advice: "A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things." Win or lose, every participant benefits from Technovation.

Technovation is more than just a competition: it's about building a community AND it's about changing the world. It's not about one team winning, it's about lifting everyone up. Perhaps even more important than the skills I learned through Technovation are the connections I made within the tech community: the mentors that have come forward and encouraged me to be bold and set sail and do new things.

Since winning the first Technovation Challenge, I have developed three more working apps: two for Michelle Obama's Healthy Kids initiative and one with an ecology theme. I have worked at two startups, StoryTelling Media and TechCentralSF, helping to develop the first online tech database for San Francisco and am currently working professionally for LocAid doing graphing and advanced data analysis for cell phone/GPS beta testing.

The Japanese have a saying: DEru kui WA uTAreru - 出る杭は打たれる- "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down". In French, we call this: "le nivellement par le bas".

But here at Technovation, we say "Hammer Up!" Rather than hammering others down, Technovation uses competition to level everyone up.

I recently visited one of my Technovation mentors, Omoju Miller, at the UC Berkeley International Computer Science Institute AI Lab. Her work on rap and metaphor in artificial intelligence is fascinating, and it is reassuring to see that if we participate in technology's creation, the brave new digital world will not just be a man's world, but will reflect the strength, diversity, creativity, and talents of 100%, not just half the world.

If we want to be part of the result, we have to be part of the process - to change the search engine results, we have to know how to write the algorithm. The keynote speaker from last week's regional competition in San Francisco, Angela Benton from Black Web Media, quoted Robert L. Peters, "Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future."

The future of technology is in our hands, so let's all "Hammer Up!"

*****

Watch Emilie Robert Wong's speech at Technovation Challenge National Pitch Night on May 3, 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif., here:

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