Apps For Good: Creating New British Entrepreneurs
On Friday, June 29th, the Barbican Centre in London hosted the 2012 Apps For Good competition finals. The Apps For Good program teaches young people how to come up with and deliver mobile and Facebook applications that can make a real difference in the lives of us all. According to the Apps For Good team, there are currently 40 partner schools engaged across the UK, impacting over 1300 students. What’s more, over 100 schools and institutions are waiting to be involved!
I am unashamedly proud and thrilled to lead our Thomson Reuters efforts. This past year, we directly sponsored three schools in London financially and with tremendous mentors. We didn’t stop there. The kids use the Google AppInventor program to create prototype versions of their idea on Android, and when Google decided to sunset the program and transfer it to MIT, the handoff was not clean. In fact, the kids were going to come back from their Christmas holidays with a system that wasn’t ready. I suggested that we would have a go at standing up the platform, and one of my mobile team members, Kevin Zimmerman in San Francisco, made it happen. I personally wanted to do more, and I was very fortunate to be able to do 2 hour Skype calls each month with different schools across the UK – and even visited one that will always be near and dear to me – Nelson Thomlinson in Wigton, Cumbria.
At the end of the program, there is a wonderful competition that takes place. Teams submit their work to a panel that creates a short list in several sponsored categories. The short list consists of two teams that come to London to present in a “Dragon’s Den” style competition in front of 5 judges. Thomson Reuters sponsored the Information category, while other major companies involved in sponsorship included Dell, RIM, and Barclaycard. Some of the ideas are just amazing. The kids in the program range from 12-17 years old, and here is a sampling of some of the projects: an app that helps you build confidence and work through tough times with motivational messages and critical help if you really hit a low; an app that lets you personally and privately monitor with your teacher your reading progress in books to prevent feeling badly for not understanding what you’re reading; and an app that lets you create visual notecards for studying for exams along with a community where you can share and reuse those notecards with other students.
In the evening and as shown in the pictures, awards are given in each category. All winners get to have their app built into a live product. In addition, the sponsors provide an additional prize, which in the case of Dell were new Inspirons, Blackberries from RIM, and iPads from Thomson Reuters. Our winner was a gardening app that uses location and MET Office weather data to give precise watering/care instructions for your plants, called The Weather Birds. Both teams were so good though, that I decided to award iPads to each; the other team had created an app that would analyze the day’s upcoming weather forecast, review it against your wardrobe, and suggest an appropriate outfit for the day. Both teams, I might add, were all female as were their mentors. That is another wonderful thing about this program. I see so many young women involved which is breaking many of the current stereotypical views of the entrepreneur climate.
The Apps For Good program is one of the best initiatives I have ever worked with. The kids really learn valuable skills in the program. They learn how to come with a product concept, assess it against potential market competition, create a roadmap for their idea, address their marketing/PR plans, and describe how they plan to monetize the solution. They learn how to build a prototype to demonstrate the idea.
The UK is creating the right type of climate for innovation by focusing on three areas: first, government focuses on what it takes to create the desire for companies to relocate and expand through favorable taxation, immigration, and incentive polices as well as ensuring the needed infrastructure is in place. Second, the entrepreneurial community and especially London and Tech City are doing their part, organically creating and delivering innovation through the merger of creative industries and technology. Lastly, the only way to drive this innovation machine is through education, teaching kids how to pursue their own passions and come up with solutions to problems they and we all face and need to be solved. The Apps For Good program is a great way to inspire the Tech City/UK innovators of tomorrow.
I am really looking forward to the next school term. Several more Thomson Reuters employees have asked how they can participate, and I only expect our relationship with Apps For Good to grow and thrive. I personally want to thank Margaret Hanlon, Leila Thomas, and Dominique Schreier for serving as mentors this past school term; I also want to thank the judges from the Information category: Pete Biggs, Corporate Affairs Manager at Thomson Reuters; Rahul Powar, Head of Mobile Application Development a Thomson Reuters; Courtney Boyd Myers, Director of Audience Development at General Assemb.ly; and Josh Oldham, Freeformes and Apps For Good alumnus.