PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) – Three exceptional female sophomore students at Palm Harbor University High School have won a mobile application design contest and will now move forward to pitch their idea to some big power players.
According to the school, Aanya Bhandari, Alexandra Unbehagen and Nia Balieva are the youngest winners of the competition, sponsored by Next Gen Tech 360.
The ladies designed an eco-friendly app called “Green Print” for users to track different types of recyclables and garbage to compete with others. The app comes with an “achievements” page for folks in competition. Points are earned through the app, which actually help nonprofits, such as those planting trees and fighting deforestation.
“We want to start with the induvial and decrease their carbon footprint and we’ve implemented three different features in order to do so, which is the trackers… which is with gas, bottles and cans and… also garbage bags,” explained Balieva.
They started by studying and surveying their own high school, where they are all enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program and have many classes together.
“We basically tried to make this a fun, interactive app for people to use. And we kind of wanted to target teens first, because it’s a very teen-oriented thing,” said Bhandari. “We want to start with the younger generation and get them going with these habits so that they can keep going on for posterity and teach their children exactly what to do.”
They found many students at the school are passionate about climate change issues and the environment. Unbehagen said it motivated the team of three to create the best app possible, focusing on the beauty of Palm Harbor.
The students, who have been working on their app pitch throughout the pandemic, won a grant for $10,000 and the opportunity to pitch their idea to “Shark Tank’s” Kevin Harrington, and to a Raymond James business executive in management next month.
“We’re definitely nervous for our pitch with Kevin just because he has seen so many start-ups and so many pitches, so to stand out is a really big deal,” said Bhandari.
The team was set to pitch their product to Harrington on Thursday.
The team is hopeful “Green Print” will be available on the iPhone App Store as well as the Google Play Store by the end of June.
All three students had advice for girls their age looking to get into S.T.E.M. and technology fields.
“…certain obstacles like that, I don’t even consider them. I just push myself into whatever I feel like doing and I don’t let that, specifically because I’m a woman, stop me from doing things. Definitely, whatever you want to do, just do it. Take the risk and do it,” said Balieva.
“Growing up, I went into a lot of clubs and programs that were geared toward coding and I noticed that it was very male-dominated. This really motivated me to kind of encourage other girls in the field of tech. I founded the ‘Girls Who Code’ club at [school,]” said Unbehagen . “I am very motivated to encourage as many young girls to enter the fields of STEM, technology, computer science, all that great stuff. My message.. Is just try any opportunities presented to you, just try it oyt, see if you enjoy it.”
“I would say it’s really bad as a society to… just slap a label on a profession and say, ‘that’s for boys, that’s for girls.’ I don’t believe that a certain profession has a gender,” said Bhandari.
Bhandari also spoke of a mentor who gave her sound advice moving forward in her schooling and career and the importance of bringing diversity to the table.
“She always used to say, ‘nobody cares about your progress, nobody is looking at you until you’re on that pedestal,’” said Bhandari. “And I think that girls really should know that nobody is going to make fun of you of judge you for starting off, because everybody starts out somewhere.”
“They took a risk, put themselves out there, developed this application and they’re getting an opportunity to pitch it to a premier entrepreneur. It says a lot. There’s no other students in the state of Florida doing that today,” said proud principal Teresa Patterson.