At Pluralsight LIVE 2018, tech-for-good group AnnieCannons won the hearts and minds of a prestigious panel of judges to take home the grand prize of the first-ever Create the Future Awards.
Almost one year—and $50,000 in prize money—later, the organization remains a true changemaker, harnessing the power of technology to improve the lives of victims of human trafficking.
What they do, and why
Founded in 2014 by Stanford alumnae Jessica Hubley and Laura Hackney, AnnieCannons transforms survivors into software developers through a trauma-informed coding bootcamp followed by steady work opportunities for qualified grads.
“We know economic opportunity is the key to breaking the cycle of exploitation among vulnerable communities,” Jessica says. With the Create the Future Awards 2018, she says AnnieCannons got “one huge step closer” to its goal of becoming a fully self-sustaining 501(c)3 by 2020.
AnnieCanons offers its students, who come from shelters and aid centers, skill development in areas like HTML, CSS, Git, node.js and more. Throughout the program and well after graduation, students are encouraged and empowered to apply their new cutting-edge technology skills to web and app development projects that provide solutions to problems in their own communities.
“We always like to create products that drive back the things that women have traditionally been shamed for,” Jessica shares. “We ask them, 'What problem do you want to solve?' and then, 'How can we solve it with software?'"
Jessica reports that about 18 of the 40 students AnnieCannons has taken in since the Create the Future Awards are ready to work, and a few have already gotten jobs outside of the program.
The impact of AnnieCannons on the lives of the survivors it serves is already having a ripple effect on the lives of marginalized people everywhere. Examples of projects include tech-forward tools designed to:
Connect voters with candidates based on policy alignment, effectively taking the influence of money out of politics
Streamline the process of filing temporary restraining orders (TROs) in Alameda County, a process that can otherwise take up to a year
Preserve rainforest by addressing women’s health issues that lead to economic insecurity in areas of heavy logging
AnnieCannons is also successfully diversifying the technology industry, one graduate at a time.
One student said, “It is about giving women who have been through trauma a skill that will help them to not only become self-sufficient, but also giving them the opportunity to claim their lives back one curly bracket at a time.”
The journey to Pluralsight LIVE
Jessica says team members at AnnieCannons had been using Pluralsight for a couple of years before the first Create the Future Awards were announced.
“It was a resource we could refer back to after learning in the classroom, or for someone building a product for the first time,” she says. “We train and workshop together, so for people who couldn’t attend, we’d send them to Pluralsight to level-up before working on a project.”
While seeking out grant opportunities to drive their mission forward, the AnnieCannons crew decided to vie for the $50,000 prize, and began refining their Create the Future Awards pitch.
Four other socially conscious startups joined AnnieCannons in the final round of the competition at Pluralsight LIVE, including: Good Glucos, described as a cross between TOMS and Dollar Shave Club, but for people with diabetes; WellDone International, a tech-savvy solution for clean drinking water; Talking Points, a two-way translation platform for parents of school-aged children; and Portal Entryways, a cost-effective fix for doorways that pose as barriers to people with mobility issues.
Each of the finalists took the stage to prove to a panel of tech and business giants that their team developed technology’s next best solution: a product with the power to make the biggest impact. In the end, it was the AnnieCannons mission and thoughtful, meticulous execution that won the judges over, and Jessica took home the prize for the organization.
After that, Jessica says, “We had a good end of year, from a fundraising perspective. It always helps to talk about winning awards from interesting brands!”
Advice to take to the bank
This year’s Create the Future Awards ups the ante. 6 finalists will be invited to compete in one of two categories—Tech for Good or Disruptive Tech—each with $50,000 on the line for a total of $100,000 in funding.
Jessica shared these tips for the batch of passionate, innovation-driven companies that make it to where she stood a year ago:
“Figure out who’s best at doing each part and do it together.”
“You get five minutes or less to make your pitch. Memorize it.”
“Word choice is important. You can usually say something in five words that you’ve been saying in 25. Say fewer words, but get more across.”
4. Show (while you tell)
“Imagery is also important. We knew we had that challenge, so we created graphical representation so as not to compromise anonymity of our clients.”
“Get to know the other participants. Talk to them. There’s something to be said about the value of just being there with them, not just the value of winning.”
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