The BYU Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering continually encourages females to participate in their programs and events. As one of the largest competitions in the college, SIOY holds many opportunities for competitors, but few females have made it to the finals. This year, that changed, and SIOY had its first female team compete at finals.
Two people stood up on the black stage, ready to present at the finals for the Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) competition on March 2, 2022. The audience likely did not know it, but by walking onto the black box, the two had already done something no one else had. Although female students had competed in the finals as individuals or with male team members, these two were part of the first team at SIOY to be made up of all women, with an innovation created for women, presented at the competition by women. And, they called themselves Sava.
The Sava team started with four female BYU students, Carolyn Allen, Meredith Von Feldt, April Gantz, and Breann Hunt, who joined together through BYU’s Sandbox Startup Accelerator, a program which gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to create a team and earn funding for a startup. Each team member wanted to assist women in overcoming obstacles and, over time, they narrowed their starting field of concern to preventing the sexual assault of female college students. To do this, they decided to create a dating safety app: Sava.
Unlike other dating apps, Sava would not assist users in finding a match. Rather, the app could accompany users on their date as a secret safety precaution. For their night out, users could use Sava’s exit strategies to help ensure their well-being. A user could schedule a time to receive a programmed “text” or “call” from a family member or friend. This would provide a legitimate reason to leave her date and quickly remove herself from a potentially unsafe situation. This technique would hopefully avoid raising alarms for the other party and thereby lower the risk of a dangerous reaction. If users choose not to schedule their exit strategy, they could still pull up the app anytime and have it text or call them instantly. In high-risk situations, users would have the option to contact the police.
The app creators tested Sava prototypes with numerous female students, some who had experienced sexual assault, and the app received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Although it needed a few technical adjustments, students felt that this app would prevent many uncomfortable or harmful events. Many also said that it would make them feel safer during the dating process.
However, not everyone expressed enthusiasm about the app. “A lot of people are wary of social impact projects,” said Hunt. “They’re not understanding how women actually live and the fear that women actually experience … We kind of have to set that balance of standing up for ourselves and standing up for women.”
This meant finding mentors who would support their innovation, and it meant finding organizations who would fund their ambition to make a difference in dating safety. Some organizations with potential to do this were BYU Engineering, the Weidman Center, and the Rollins Center, all who came together to host the innovation competition, SIOY. Team lead Carolyn Allen heard about SIOY through a previous job at the Rollins Center, and the team decided to pursue any opportunity that could provide more financial stability for their app.
Unlike other competitions, which centered on business or social awareness, SIOY gave Sava a reason to shift their attention to the engineering portion of their app. This change in direction helped the team to create a more efficient design, and it provided the motivation to make the app function at its highest-level possible. Sava made it through to the top seven in the SIOY Finals and received $4,000 for this feat. While the team did not make it to the top three, it did make it into history, not only as the first all-female team, but also as the first team with a project focused on females.
In April, the app became available on app stores for $1.99. As Sava moves forward, each member hopes to make this endeavor her career. They will continue to work with universities to encourage students of all genders to download the app, as the team recognizes the each person could benefit from this extra precaution. “We want to get out how this is not only helpful for the students, but also how this can be beneficial to the university—to help them to be safe,” said Allen. As the app gains success at various institutions, Sava plans to expand their audience beyond college students and provide safety to all. Although the need to increase dating safety will not go away during their lifetime, the team looks forward to finding more ways to prevent sexual assault and help more people enjoy the dating process, safely.