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Girls With Ideas puts young women on the path to leadership

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(left to right) Britney Tracy, Abbie Schneider, Allison Poss and Angela Magazino at Launch Day 2016. Photo courtesy of NewBoCo.

A girl’s confidence peaks at the age of nine, but girls who are encouraged to be leaders are more likely to fill that role when they grow up.

Girls With Ideas founder Dr. Allison Poss was working as a psychologist at an Iowa middle school when she noticed a culture of social media threats and mean behavior directed at students. The school had established a leadership program for boys, and Poss said out to set up a similar program for sixth grade girls.

“I went to look for material and a lot of it was very fluffy and not very substantial,” Poss said. “It seemed to undercut a lot of the thoughts and skills girls in that age group had. I decided to come up with lessons from my own work studying leadership.”

As other educators heard about what Poss was doing, they started asking her to give presentations or for access to her lessons plans. Once she saw the consistent demand, Poss decided to launch a Kickstarter to fund the program. More than 200 backers raised $21,700 to successfully fund Girls With Idea.

The program includes a facilitator guide, and idea books for each girl going through Girls With Ideas. Girls With Ideas includes 20 lessons, each designed to take around 45 minutes.

“It can be done twice a day for 10 weeks, or a camp might decide to run through multiple lessons a day,” Poss said. “It’s a product we can sell to non-profits, after school groups and organizations like the Girl Scouts that serve girls 9-13.”

Accelerating the idea

Poss’s background is as a researcher and psychologist, so she had never taken a business class. She submitted Girls With Ideas to be a part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator in Cedar Rapids, and the program was selected as part of the 2016 cohort. Poss wanted the support of experts and mentors in the accelerator to help her make the best decisions and to educate her on the social norms of business.

“At every turn, it seemed like someone would be introduced to us at the perfect time, asking a question I had never thought about, like, ‘Describe your business in six words,’” Poss said. “We went through the experience with five other businesses that were all at different stages of development. We were able to learn from things other businesses have been through and we got to celebrate each other’s successes.”

The next lesson

Girls With Ideas was taking preorders before launch day, and to date 10 organizations are using the curriculum, with enough idea workbooks ordered for 1,000 girls.

“We’re in beast mode, looking for organizations that want to be connected with us,” Poss said.

Poss said she went into the Iowa Startup Accelerator with big ideas, which were ultimately scaled back by Launch Day. But those ideas are still growing behind the scenes.

“We have ideas for so much more than just curriculum,” Poss said. “I went in with ideas for a board game and a huge research study. What I really learned is if you want to get big, you have to start small. We decided to focus on the curriculum, so we could get good at one thing before we grow.”

The four-member Girls With Ideas team is working with pilots of the program and will soon be launching a speaking program targeting events like STEM conferences for young girls.

“I want Girls With Ideas to be the gold standard for researching and developing solutions for girls 9-13,” Poss said. “When girls don’t feel creative or don’t share ideas, it has a huge impact down the line. Our big goal is figuring out how to help with that. It’s a way of helping some of the larger problems society has with gender inequality.”

Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.