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WoCo Qualifies for Final Round In Technovation Challenge

WoCo & Co., one of Andover’s six teams competing in the Technovation Challenge, has been selected as a finalist in the international competition, ranking among the top three in the country and the top six in the world. The four-person team, consisting of Qiqi Ren ’15, Sloane Sambuco ’16, Jenny Huang ’16 and Moe Sunami ’17, will fly to San Francisco, CA, to participate in the 2015 World Pitch this June.

During their trip, the four will tour the city, attend a number of entrepreneurship workshops and pitch their product before a crowd of hundreds of tech professionals, with a chance to win up to $10,000 in prizes.

Over the course of three months, WoCo planned, coded and designed PraisePop, a completely anonymous iOS app with the focus of spreading positivity and inclusivity at Andover and communities throughout the world. A female-only challenge, Technovation encourages girls to take on the practice of coding and provides female technology professionals who guide the participants throughout the app-making process.

This year’s challenge asked participants to develop an app that addressed a problem currently plaguing their community: for WoCo, it was the lack of positivity at Andover.

Collecting data from a series of potential-user surveys, the team quickly saw the need for a happier, more inclusive atmosphere at Andover. Seeing the merits of the Facebook page “PA Compliments,” the girls hoped to develop an accountable system that would allow for a harmonious balance between anonymity and positivity.

“Negativity and exclusivity are prominent in many communities. Too often people feel alone, excluded and unacknowledged. With PraisePop, people can spread positivity and inclusivity in their communities by anonymously sharing uplifting posts,” said Sambuco.

When users first open PraisePop, they are prompted to make an account with their institution’s email address. For Andover community members, it would be their andover.edu address. Each email domain connects to its own personalized feed, allowing users to see posts relevant to their communities. Designed around a popcorn theme, the app’s interface then allows users to write anonymous compliments about other community members, compiling the posts into a community-wide feed and allowing viewers to up-vote posts by clicking on a kernel and popping it into popcorn. Each post, although unnamed, is embedded with a “Report” button, which notifies the team of cases of potential negativity. After receiving a report of misconduct, WoCo will investigate the issue and then, if deemed necessary, trace the email account linked to the post back to its owner – a system designed to ensure accountability among the app’s users.

“Users can direct posts to one person, a group of people, or even create invitations to everyone, for example, to play ultimate or soccer on the lawn,” said Sambuco.

WoCo won third place after pitching their app to an audience of 300 people at the regional event held in Cambridge, Mass. The team was flattered when, a week later, the judges selected them to advance to the semifinal round, placing them among the top 18 teams in the nation. The semifinals were judged entirely online by a panel of experts who evaluated the work of all teams to then narrow the pool down to six finalists.

“I thought that was as far as we’d go; I literally wasn’t expecting to move on into Finals at all. But then, during the Dance Open show on Saturday, I remembered that the finalists were announced at 8:00 p.m. so I checked my phone out of curiosity and it turned out that I’d [received] about 20 texts. I took that as a good sign, and then I saw the name ‘WoCo’ in the announcement, and I let out a scream backstage!” said Sunami.

“I was so surprised, and my heart was pounding so fast. I felt beyond ecstatic, and I couldn’t believe that all of our hard work had finally paid off. I’m so excited to go to San Francisco and share PraisePop with the world. PraisePop will take San Francisco by storm,” said Huang.

At the World Pitch competition, WoCo will have the opportunity to take part in numerous workshops designed to continue their growth as technology entrepreneurs. At Yelp’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, the finalists will pitch their projects on June 24, attempting to win the favor of a distinguished panel of judges. The following night, finalists will attend the Technovation Awards Ceremony, a gala attended by hundreds of technology professionals, where $20,000 worth of prizes will be awarded, including $10,000 to the winning team.

Next week, a California-based film crew, led by critically acclaimed filmmaker Lesley Chilcott, will be flying out to Andover to feature WoCo in their upcoming documentary: “#GirlsInTech”. Chilcott, who produced former Vice President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the educationally-introspective documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,” has been following and filming a number of teams from around the globe who are participating in the Technovation Challenge. After WoCo advanced to the semifinal round, the film crew became amazed with the app’s design and asked if they would be interested in taking part in the documentary. “[The film crew] is going to film in the library, in Commons, in the dorm, anywhere that the girls will be working together. It’s exciting and I think [becoming finalists] rightly recognizes [their app] as a big effort and really terrific work––the app itself, the business plan, the pitch video, the demo and even the poster,” said Maria Litvin, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, in an interview with The Phillipian.

WoCo’s application for an Abbot Grant was recently approved by the Abbot Academy Association’s Board of Directors. The team plans to use the funds to purchase a server to process and store data, register a web domain and to expand the app’s operation on other devices, addressing the 12 percent of the student body that doesn’t use iPhones.

May 22, 2015