Valentina Muti, Zoe Sheill, Katherine Gelsey and Emily Kim show off the homescreen of their WeTutor app on June 9. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Islanders earn accolades in all-girls coding challenge

Four Mercer Island High School juniors who created a tutoring marketplace app were named one of 100 semifinalists in the all-girl coding competition Technovation. Out of all of the participants, they placed among the top 12 internationally — one of two teams from the U.S. to do so.

Technovation is the world’s largest technology entrepreneurship program for girls aged 10-18. Every year, it invites teams of young women to learn and apply the skills needed to solve real-world problems through technology. The teams have to create a mobile app solution to address a problem, communicate their ideas and translate them into a fully launched business.

Zoe Sheill, Emily Kim, Valentina Muti and Katherine Gelsey created a business, TokkiTech, and an app, WeTutor, to improve the accessibility and affordability of education by making it easier for students and tutors to connect.

While creating their app for the Technovation challenge, they found that 81 percent of students at their high school would like to help other students, but could not find anyone to tutor, while 59 percent of students at MIHS said that they did not have a tutor due to the cost.

“WeTutor is an app, which provides users with a tutoring marketplace, offering students much-needed flexibility with scheduling, price, tutor quality and academic subject offerings,” according to TokkiTech’s business plan. “Student users can receive the help they need — in the subject they need — by using the app calendar and chat functions to coordinate meetings with available tutors.”

Created from personal experience, WeTutor was designed by students, for students. All four of the TokkiTech founders have tutored other students and received valuable help from tutors, but found that there wasn’t an easy way for students and tutors to find each other.

They decided to enter their app into the “education” category of the Technovation challenge. Other categories were poverty, environment, peace, equality and health (the six themes were inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals). After being named semifinalists, the WeTutor creators recently found out that they were named the runner up in their category, and earned $5,000 in seed money for their company.

Sheill, the CEO and primary technology developer, programmed the WeTutor app and created the website. She also collected data from surveys and interviews to implement features within the app. Sheill is enrolled in an AP computer science class, and also created an app for the MIHS band. She said the Technovation challenge was a good experience, and helped her become a better coder.

The other co-founders helped in a variety of other aspects, and said that taking their app from a concept to a business was the most challenging part. None of them are currently enrolled in a business or DECA class, and had to learn on the job. They worked on the project for about three months.

Kim, the company’s CMO, filmed, produced and edited the pitch and demo videos. She also conducted interviews with students and did online research to gather information for the app.

Muti, the COO, used Sketch and Canva to design the graphics for TokkiTech and WeTutor, including every page’s user interface, the default profile images, and the company logos and icons.

Gelsey, the CFO, wrote much of the final business plan, focusing on the product, marketing and financial projections to develop a business model.

Muti said that the competition helped the group gain valuable business skills, including networking, teamwork and problem solving. They had two mentors: Libby Johnston McKee, director of Recommerce at Amazon, who focuses on the building and management of teams and businesses and Greg Gottesman, managing director and co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs, who creates and launches technology companies.

In the future, TokkiTech plans to implement new features into WeTutor, including a payment function that enables students to pay their tutors directly through the app and on-demand teaching functions such as video calling and a real-time shared scratch pad. They want to grow their business, starting with a promotion and launch in Mercer Island, then an expansion to nearby school districts.

For more information on the app, see www.wetutorapp.com.

The WeTutor app, created by four Mercer Island students, allows users to see a list of available tutors in their area. It also has chat and calendar functions, allowing students and tutors to easily connect with each other. Photo via wetutorapp.com

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