VIA team reaches finals of MN Cup

Originally posted by the Rochester Post Bulletin

A group of Rochester girls are finalists in a Minnesota business competition, thanks to an app they created that discourages texting and driving.

The team of five from Rochester Public Schools are finalists in two categories of the 2017 Minnesota Cup, a competition for the best new business idea. The girls created the app, which prevents teens from texting and driving, through a separate competition, after they were alarmed to find that 11 teens die daily while texting and driving.

The team’s app, called VIA, prevents texting by reminding drivers to mute their phone notifications while in a vehicle. When put in driving mode, the app sends an automatic text to the user’s contact when she begins and finishes driving.

The statewide Minnesota Cup, an entrepreneurial competition, announced the team as one of 24 chosen in the third round of the challenge, from an initial pool of 520. The girls are finalists in the Youth Division of the competition, which puts them in the running for up to $10,000.

The competition kicked off this spring with business ideas submitted in eight divisions: Energy/Clean Tech/Water, Food/Agriculture/Beverage, General, High Tech, Life Science/Health IT, Impact Ventures, Student (for enrolled graduate school or undergraduate students ages 19-30) and Youth (age 18 and younger).

They’re among the 37 percent of teams led by women, and 29 percent led by minorities in the competition, according to Minnesota Cup.

“Minnesota Cup is dedicated to expanding the field of entrepreneurs in our state, and we’re working to unleash the economic power of underrepresented groups while building a strong culture of innovation,” said Minnesota Cup executive director Melissa Kjolsing Lynch.

As semifinalists, they spent the the summer meeting with mentors to perfect their business plan and learned how to pitch it to a larger audience.

The app was originally create for Technovation, a 12-week program that pairs professional mentors with all-girl teams to help them design and code mobile phone apps. In that competition, the girls were a runner up to the finalist at the international Technovation Challenge in the competition’s health category — a designation that came with $5,000 in scholarship money.

“It’s always exciting when girls find outlets for their Technovation apps in other competitions and arenas,” said Rich Bogovich, a program organizer with Technovation. “Success in other venues not only validates their Technovation achievement but helps to reinforce the appeal of coding as a career for young women.”

It’s not the first time a Technovation team from the region has had success in another competition, Bogovich said. Byron’s team won the 2016 Rochester Youth Startup Weekend competition and a Kasson-Mantorville team took that app to the White House Science Fair.

The final winner and recipients of prizes for the Minnesota Cup will be announced on Oct. 9 at the Carlson School of Management.

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