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Malavika Vivek is the founder of Women Tech eXchange and director of Girls Make Apps, both organizations that seek to provide pathways for more girls in tech. Attending the Middlesex County Academy in New Jersey, she is extremely passionate about science, technology and social entrepreneurship. For her efforts to close the gender gap in technology, she has been recognized as a national runner-up by the National Center for Women and Information Technology as well as a 2017 Stanford #include fellow. Malavika is also the President of her school’s Girls Who Code chapter and co-Captain of her VEX Robotics team.
City where you’re from: Edison, NJ
Hobbies: Singing, Designing, Machine Learning, Coding
Favorite quote: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Malavika Vivek: Ever since I became a high schooler in a competitive STEM high school, I immediately noticed the lack of women in technology and the effects imposter syndrome was having on my talented, interested peers. They didn’t see a place for them in technology because there weren’t many female role models in tech being pushed like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. This is where my passion for bridging the gender gap in STEM began. In order to affect change, I partnered with my co-founder Akshaya Dinesh and the National Center for Women and Information Technology to create Girls Make Apps, a national organization that hosts workshops and hackathons for young women from middle school to the college level.
Our recent events have included a 8-week pilot program partnered with Microsoft NYC which taught middle schoolers how to create android apps and about entrepreneurship and a VR camp for high schoolers in the Bay Area. Coming up, we have ByteHacks, and incredible 24-hour hackathon event at Spotify NYC with awesome prizes and opportunities.
How is your company different?
Malavika Vivek: Girls Make Apps was created around providing girls and women with a positive experience in tech. For many of our program participants, our events are their first time doing a technical project or program. We work to create a unique experience that shows them the infinite possibilities of technology and how there is a place for everyone.
With our middle school pilot program, we focused on teaching the girls how to make apps to solve social issues. Driving the theme of social entrepreneurship, we found that the girls found technology incredibly easy to learn when it was used as a tool to pursue a cause they truly cared about. Before we knew it, these girls were tackling complex issues they faced in their communities from learning English as a second language to depression to nutrition. After our program, a post-survey showed that 100% of our participants were now interested in technology and wanted to pursue a future in it. We show everyone that there is a place for them in tech and build our programs around creating positive first experiences – that is how we are unique.
What’s your dream with your company?
Malavika Vivek: My dream for Girls Make Apps is expanding our outreach internationally. I would love to form more chapters around the world and have more program leaders directly affecting change. With our launch of programs nationally, we have been able to truly diversify our base of program participants and provide a pathway for more girls to become involved in tech. I believe that expanding internationally would allow us to focus on regions that don’t have opportunities for girls in technology and education and thereby allow us to target the larger problem at hand.
I would also like to use Girls Make Apps as a platform for social impact by spreading awareness about issues women face in the technology sector. Using social media to connect all our program participants and eventually create a community of informed, excited changemakers is truly one of our end goals.
How do you creatively advertise?
Malavika Vivek: Our biggest marketing technique has been connecting with and seeking the advice of the existing women in tech community. Through organizations like the National Center for Women and Information Technology and ProjectCSGirls, we have been able to increase our impact and reach many more participants. Women in computer science groups at universities have also been incredible with helping us and partnering with us to bridge the gap.
Another incredible resource has been faculty and guidance counselors at middle and high schools. We recruited participants for our pilot program by reaching out to these dedicated teachers and counselors and were truly stunned by the support they gave us and their students. We realized that connecting many communities would really help us make a difference and build that support network of mentors and students that was essential to our mission.
What motivates you when you encounter a challenge?
Malavika Vivek: I am constantly motivated by the mission of Girls Make Apps. My co-founder and I both learned how to code from free online tutorials and were never formally taught. We realized that we would have been so much more inspired if we had mentors to guide us and role models to look up to. We began this organization as a way to provide this experience for girls and women across the country. Despite the many challenges we have encountered and will continue to face in the future, I am unrelentless in my mission because I truly believe Girls Make Apps is making the world a better, more inclusive place. We seek to inspire our participants to aspire and teach them not only the power of technology, but the power of their dreams. All our challenges seem small when what we are doing is far greater than us itself.
What was your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
Malavika Vivek: My biggest failure was in the early stages of recruiting for our pilot program. Initially, registrations were slow and I felt overwhelmed because I couldn’t come up with a marketing strategy to reach middle schoolers in the area.
This is when I began reaching out to tech teachers and middle school counselors in an effort to spread awareness about the program. The response astounded me. They were very vocal in their support and were willing to go above and beyond to make sure their students were afforded the opportunity to attend. One tech advisor went so far as to chaperone her students to and from the program for all eight weeks and learn with them. This both amazed me and taught me that programs are built on the dedication of whole communities of people.
My greatest success was seeing the pride and excitement on the faces of our students as they presented their completed products. Hearing middle school girls talk about market research and pricing models and the features of their app with confidence was simply an incredible experience. They were genuinely passionate about technology and seeing them grow and learn so much in that time was so rewarding for me.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Malavika Vivek: You don’t have to start big. Ideas can take off in smaller stages too. In the beginning it feels like all of your goals have to be accomplished and everything has to go according to plan. When you start something, you have to be ready for the plan to change all the time and be accommodating of that change. Take it step by step and set goals that feel doable. Find that motivation to drive your passion and you will be unstoppable.