The 32 college student teams who’ll take part in this year’s edition of the Student Startup Madness tournament – a nationwide tournament focused on digital startups – have been selected and Massachusetts has a local representative: Chirp, a not-for-profit online platform for teen parents invented by two roommates at Harvard University, Phoebe Stoye and Risham Dhillon.
In a Q&A session with BostInno, Stoye and Dhillon – a neurobiology and a computer science student, respectively – explained that Chirp aims at providing teen parents with starting points and step-by-step action plans to help them accomplish a specific goal. In that sense, Dhillon said that it might help to think of Chirp as an aspiring “wikihow” for teen parents.
“Let’s say a teen parent was considering alternative routes to finishing high school, like the GED,” Dhillon wrote. “We’re trying to take the discouraging complexities and searching out of the process, and instead present a quick, easy-to-read overview of the process.”
In 2015, almost 230,000 babies were born in the U.S. to women aged 15–19, according to the most recent statistics available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the number itself indicates a drop of 8 percent in teen pregnancies compared to 2014, it still means that – roughly – 22 per 1,000 women in this age group become mothers before turning 20.
One of Stoye’s friends is among them.
“I watched one of my high school friends absolutely crush it with raising her 2-year-old, doing college full-time, and managing a local restaurant at night,” Stoye, who grew up in Grand Junction, CO, wrote in an email.
But the fact that not all teen mothers were “absolutely crushing it” became clear to Stoye in the winter of her freshman year. At that time, she shadowed doctors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of her hometown in Colorado and got to talk to many teen parents – some that were her age – struggling with sick babies.
“I was 19,” Stoye wrote. “It motivated me to learn why this was happening and how I could do something about it.”
Stoye and Dhillon recognized that there’s been a huge focus on preventing teen pregnancy, with lots of attention given to make birth control accessible to teens. “This is a great campaign, which we deeply support, but for those young people out there who are already pregnant or have a baby, there’s a lot less national focus and a deep-rooted stigma, and as a result, the supportive, community-based programs that exist for teen parents are often overlooked.”
The process where Chirp hopes to came handy is helping teen parents to find the existing resources out there. While still in beta testing, the website – free to use for everyone – will focus first on teen parents in Grand Junction, New York and Boston.
“Once we officially launch this spring, we hope to expand the user base, getting this in school districts, doctor’s offices, and other main contact points for teen parents,” Dhillon concluded.