Feature Story

Young women tackle STEM headfirst in Cisco's Innovation Grand Challenge

by Stephanie Chan

This challenge inspired 13 to 18-year-olds around the globe to become the future of the IT workforce.

Imagine discovering a way to prevent smuggling illegal items and a sensor-based measure to notify customers when an item has been compromised or tampered.

This idea was not birthed from the latest breakthrough from a retail giant—instead, from the minds of Emily and Alice, two young women who won Cisco’s IoT World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge.

Contestants in Cisco’s IoT World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge

This global competition called upon young women between the ages of 13 to 18 to suggest new solutions and technologies to bridge devices and objects to the Internet of Everything. Categories of the competition included education, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, retail, transportation, and smart cities.

This challenge lines up with the heart of Cisco’s commitment to increasing STEM interest and awareness in young women. Cisco aimed to bring positive experiences to all participants, and by doing so, build the future of IT talent.

Today, women comprise 23% of all computer science jobs. Cisco’s goal is to raise the number of women involved in STEM and IT by starting young—inspiring young girls to become tomorrow’s IT workforce.

#GirlsforIoTinnovation Whiteboard Video from Girls for IoT Innovation on Vimeo.

“Cisco’s Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge showcases an exceptionally high level of quality ideas that advance the Internet of Things, a wave of innovation that is expected to be more profound than the previous Internet revolution,” says Whitney Rockley, a judge for the challenge, and Co-founder and Managing Partner of McRock Capital.

The Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge kicked off at the 2014 IoT World Forum in Chicago. 1500 girls participated in this challenge, and submissions arrived from 171 countries around the world.  

Emily and Alice, two sisters from China, won the challenge and $20,000 with their IoT-based Global Container Management System. The system also incorporated a reporting system created from a software solution via an IoT Intercloud.

“With the award also come great responsibilities. We believe that the fund we received should do more than just serve our self-interests,” say Emily and Alice, “Now, with the ability to help, we would like to spend a portion of the money to buy learning materials and books related to science for the kids who are of our age but with fewer educational opportunities. We deeply appreciate this wonderful opportunity to show our ideas to the world.”

I am a girl and I am an innovator of the future

Four teams won the second place along with $10,000 each, and five teams achieved third place with $5,000 each.

Each finalist created incredible tools and solutions—including everything from “navigation shoes for pedestrians”, to “arthritis prevention through motion detection”, to “solving storm and flash floors in city streets by using network of flow”.

“We are thrilled to see the passion, innovation and professionalism of all participants in the challenge,” said the Executive Sponsor of the challenge, Inbar Lasser Raab, Cisco VP Products and Solutions Marketing. “We hoped that the great excitement and opportunity around the Internet of Things will appeal to young women and attract them to get involved in STEM fields. The results exceeded our expectations, demonstrating great creativity in utilizing IoT to address everyday challenges and better people’s lives.”

#girlsforiotinnovation in instagram

Cisco realizes the demand for skilled workers in the technology field, and works to inspire innovation from younger generations to pursue education in STEM.  

Second place winner, Canada’s Cynthia who created the “interactive shower”, says it best—“I am a girl and I am an innovator of the future.”