Written by Donald A. Promnitz
A high school team in Fresno took 1st place for a new category in one of the biggest tech competitions in the Central Valley.
The team from the Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship won the “Ignite In-Progress” prize at the recent 59 Days of Code competition at the Southwest Building in Fresno with their app, Suvia. The competition was the first one to be held since going on a three-year hiatus in 2014.
“Ignite is a track we created this year that focuses on a theme or issue that’s affecting the San Joaquin Valley, so each year they’ll change,” said Rebecca Miller, executive director at 59 Days of Code. “The first year we decided to go with water because it’s very relevant right now.”
Contestants were broken into two categories — Original and In-Progress. The In-Progress competition saw the teams work on and pitch an app already in the making. Derived from the Korean word for “water,” Suvia is a smart sprinkler app that uses sensors to detect the moisture levels in soil. The sprinklers will then only water the areas most in need, conserving water.
Suvia was the idea of Patiño senior Owen Levin, who came up with the app during the beginning of his class’ 11th grade year.
“Our school gave us the task of trying to solve an issue that was current and present in our environment, and one of the issues was the drought,” Levin said. “There were a lot of protests and issues with water for agriculture, so I’ve been programming using sensor technology for the past two or three years. I tried to apply knowledge of sensors to solve the issue.”
Levin had hoped at first to use the Suvia app to help in agriculture, but moved to the entry level of residential use.
“The year before, we had kind of decided we were going to do something with gaming,” said Lilly Simmons, a member of the Suvia team, “but when Owen was explaining the idea and the sensors and the impact it would have on the drought, we all were on board right away with it.”
Evaluation for the 59 Days of Code competition was broken into three stages — pitching the app, the showcase floor and the final pitch between the two finalists.
“We kind of split up the pitch in a simple way,” said. “[Levin] talks about the products and he’s the developer of it, and I’m more of the ‘let’s talk about the drought’ side, the problem, and I talk about our customers, our market, and I tie all of that together.”
In the end, Suvia beat out the other finalist — Central Valley Software Solutions, LLC.
“I’m not really surprised with anything that they do. I kind of look at it as a normal thing — like they should win,” said Michael Padilla, their teacher. “In the beginning, there was a lot of pride, like: ‘Oh, wow. These guys are doing great things. They’re winning competitions that only college students can enter,’ but now, I’m getting to the point where it’s just a normal thing — like that’s what should happen.”
The group is part of the first graduating class at Patiño, which officially opened in 2015. Principal Blair Sagardia has stated their win is just one more testament to their growth, having started at the school before construction was finished.
“And they were typical high school students with all their quirks and a lot of them were pretty immature,” Sagardia said. “And we’ve seen them develop into these extraordinary young men and women who are complimented constantly on their ability to interact and present themselves as very mature beings.”
Their prize included $5,000, along with receiving branding services, printing services and free repositories towards helping get their startup off the ground.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for this kind of system to really grow. These students are just really amazing and inspiring,” Miller said. “And for me, it feels really good to give them prize money because you know that kids like this are going to do big things in the world.”
Currently, Suvia is still a rough prototype. Levin stated that the prize money will go towards further research and development to create a product for the marketplace.
Simmons said that the Suvia team is looking at growing their product in Fresno, which she stated is in the early stages of a digital boom.
“So there’s kind of a tech revolution that’s been going on since the launch of Bitwise, and that’s shown through the revitalization of downtown Fresno,” Simmons said. “So everything that they’re doing down at the Fulton Mall and everything they’re doing with our school building up here and with our partnership with Bitwise, we feel has all been put into this soup that they’ve been stirring for all of these years. Now that we’re here, it’s kind of become this place where tech companies are thriving, just like how it was in the Silicon Valley.”
About Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship
Presented as a new model for secondary education, the Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship puts a heavy emphasis on its students mastering computer literacy, web navigation, website creation, online marketing and coding. By graduation, students are expected to have developed, pitched and started their own business.
Located at 2000 E. Cambridge Ave. in Fresno, the $12 million campus opened in 2015, and is one of the smallest high schools in the Fresno Unified School District with an inaugural 10th-grade class of about 150 students — for a total capacity of about 450 students in its 10-12 grade student body. With a school day that begins around 9 a.m., instruction is modeled after an actual work environment.