Biggest names in PR and marketing pitch in to help Apps for Good entrepreneurs. Tony Parkin reports
The Tech City area around Shoreditch, just north of Liverpool Street station, is one of the coolest areas for would-be digital entrepreneurs to hang out, and in Tech City there’s nowhere cooler than Google Campus. Where better for Apps for Good to hold an Alumni Workshop to help their successful pupil teams from 2010/11 and 2011/12 further develop their entrepreneurial and marketing skills to help promote their apps?
Apps for Good is widely known for its work helping school students create Android apps, and get the winning apps (see “East End girls flood Android ‘Apps for Good’ course” and “Apps for Good opens up for more schools to join”). What is perhaps less well known is the ongoing marketing and entrepreneurial support dimension of this inspirational work once the apps have been created.
The recent marketing workshop for Apps for Good alumni teams featured some of the biggest names in PR, marketing and product launches to help the successful teams with developing ideas for promoting and developing their successful apps. Among them was Apps for Good supporter and branding guru Chris Moss, founder of the Orange brand, creator of Virgin Atlantic’s “Magic Moments” campaign and former 118 118 chief executive. Chris was joined by product expert David Ponsford, director of product management with Truphone, formerly of Skype and who had presented alongside Steve Jobs at the Apple iPhone 4 launch. They ran a session for the students on marketing their app. The seminars also included one from tech PR veteran William Ostrom, communications director of kgb (no, not the Russian one) providing advice to the teams on how to get their app into the media.
App design not just about tech – you need branding, product marketing and PR
The afternoon started with pitches by the various student teams to the group about their apps, and then the top-quality seminars on branding, product marketing and PR alternated with student presentations and workshop exercises that helped them improve their pitches, and drove the key messages home. The pace and level was high and relentless, but everyone was clearly having fun. One dreads to think what the commercial charges for such top-quality training would be!
Between the sessions I managed to grab a few words with some of the students and teachers present, who unsurprisingly were full of enthusiasm and praise for what they had learned, not only during the day but on their Apps for Good journeys.
Reading Girls’ School Year 11 student Kanchan is part of the RMBme team. They created an app to help people use their phone to take photos of things they mustn’t forget and link them to an alarm. It was designed for students but is useful for anyone. As Kanchan talked it became clear that improving technical skills was far from the only aspect of her learning journey with Apps for Good.
“I found out about Apps for Good through my ICT teacher,” she explained. “She put us into groups with mixed abilities and I was in a team with two Year 8s and one Year 9. We had never even seen each other at school before and we were forced into this group – but we ended up becoming friends. The main thing I gained from Apps for Good was confidence in presenting – it even helps with English class. My confidence has gone from zero to 100 per cent after all the pitching and presenting we’ve done.
“The one thing that surprised me about building apps is the process. I thought that one person just sits at their computer and makes an app but I learned there are all different people who contribute to making an app, and it can take a year or more of hard work to get it done. I’m most proud of having the app – it is one of the coolest things I can say! We have an app on the Android Market and you can see our names next to the app. I use RMBme every day and hope other people will too!”
‘We wanted to make it for students but it is helpful for everyone’
Her RMBme teammate Year 9 student Urooj added: “Our app idea was inspired by our experience in forgetting things during their exam period. Our app lets you take a picture of what you need to remember and set it as your reminder. We wanted to make it for students but it is helpful for everyone. We have been raising money at school by selling RMBme badges to help promote our app which has been lots of fun – now everyone at school wears our badges and helps to promote our app. Being a part of Apps for Good has really opened up my mind about what I might do as a career because there are so many different careers I had never thought about before Apps for Good.”
Central Girls Foundation student Janna is part of the WeatherBirds team. She said: “Through the Apps for Good course we’ve learned all kinds of technical skills like user interface design and coding. We’ve also built our skills in everything from talking to a room full of investors to learning how to project manage large and difficult projects – which helps even in preparing for A-levels! One of the best part of the process was witnessing the app develop from our idea to a real functioning app that will help people in their gardens. The experience has showed us that while there are billions of problems around the world, there are also billions of ways to solve them and technology can help make that happen. Plus we really enjoyed working with people from industry, especially Margaret from Thomson Reuters, who really encouraged us throughout the process of making our app and still does!”
“Apps for Good’s mentors are massively beneficial”
Teacher Gail Harrison, from St Matthew Academy, south London, was equally full of praise for the support from Apps for Good team and their industry backers. “From the teacher’s point of view, you need confidence and support from Apps for Good to get this off the ground, and their behind the scenes support is absolutely amazing. The groups of students had some really good ideas, the apps were all their own work, and they needed very little teacher input other than support and occasional advice. But the Apps for Good’s team of mentors are massively beneficial. There is total security, but they are always contactable for ideas and guidance.”
Sitting nearby was St Matthew Academy student David, who had created an app ‘Beat the Book’. He added “My app helps get students to read by giving them a game to play as a reward for reading and understanding the books set by their teacher. By learning about how I could solve a problem using technology, I’m now interested in IT and might even work it in when I’m older”. Gail and David described how reluctant he had been in the early days when it came to presentations. But by the time of the Apps Final at BT Tower, David found himself confidently showing off his app, and discussing it with Davina McCall “How cool was that?” he grinned.
Gail also sang the praises of other industry mentors and advisers, such as Kevin Ayres, managing director of LinkedIn Europe. “He wasn’t even officially assigned to our apps, but when he saw what the pupils had done he contacted the school, and asked to come in and meet and talk with them. He did a couple of sessions, met up with students up in the head’s office, and did a huge amount to help bolster the project in the school.”
Now is the perfect time for schools who are interested in Apps for Good to get involved. The organisation is currently recruiting primary and secondary schools for the next round of Apps for Good courses. More details on what is entailed, and how to apply, can be found at on the Apps for Good website See also ”East End girls flood Android ‘Apps for Good’ course” and “Apps for Good opens up for more schools to join”