Women’s Innovation Network addresses gender barriers

When it comes to women entrepreneurs and innovators, the numbers speak for themselves and the story they tell is not always an encouraging one.

For example, fewer than 11 percent of university startup companies nationwide have a female founder or co-founder, and women-led startups received a mere 2.3 percent of venture capital funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new UO-sponsored program aims to address gender-specific barriers to success in innovation and help faculty members, researchers, students and entrepreneurs in the community build skills that help bring their research to market or launch and sustain their businesses.

Applications are now being accepted through July 12 for the Women’s Innovation Network, a nine-month, cross-disciplinary program that launches in the fall. The program is open to UO faculty members, staff and students as well as members of the community.

Supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and Onward Eugene, the Women’s Innovation Network features monthly seminars, social events and small-group mentor calls. It helps women-identified entrepreneurs and innovators to develop industry connections and prepares them to enter business incubators or accelerators or to engage with private industry.

Participants receive access to leaders with expertise in company formation, fundraising, business pitches, grants, rhetoric and pragmatics, and public-private partnerships. The program is housed in the UO’s Innovation Partnership Services unit, which works with UO researchers, the public and industry to accelerate the adoption of products derived from UO research and education.

One unique aspect of the network is that participants receive compensation for their time and energy, said Christine Gramer, senior technology development associate and co-leader of the program. Organizers also plan to offer child care and other support services.

“We recognize that women often face significant obligations that are unfunded,” Gramer said. “We built the program purposefully to account for these issues.”

The program’s monthly seminars are hosted by company founders, CEOs, researchers and innovators, and other experts. Session topics include taking risks, company formation, intellectual property landscape, and investment and funding options. All seminars are free and open to the public.

“The Women’s Innovation Network is built around topics that both faculty and entrepreneurs shared with us that they wished they had known as they were starting out, and these topics are backed by research literature as key to leveling the playing field,” said Mandy Gettler, senior innovation asset administrator and co-leader of the program. “I had men as mentors and supervisors, and they couldn’t coach me on how to close a business deal with a guy who had his arm around my chair or how to dress both professionally and still be contemporary for a presentation. They had never thought about these things, and women absolutely do. And the choices women make affect how their work and potential are received.”

The Women’s Innovation Network program launches in October and runs through June 2022. The application deadline for the inaugural 2021-22 cohort is July 12. To submit an application, visit the application page. For more information, go to win.uoregon.edu.

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications