Universities are key to unlocking women-led innovation, write Professor Alice Gast and Alexsis de Raadt St James.
If female entrepreneurs are given the space and support to explore startup ideas in their student years, they thrive. Alice Gast and Alexsis de Raadt St James The Guardian
In a piece published by the Guardian, Imperial’s President, together with the founder and managing partner of women-led venture capital firm Merian Ventures, talks about the duties of universities and investors in leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs.
The pair explain the vision behind Imperial's WE Innovate – an entrepreneurship programme specifically for female students – which was founded with the support of the Althea Foundation in 2014. It provides access to funding, mentoring, and exposure to investor networks to support women-led businesses at the earliest stage.
WE Innovate has supported over 250 women since its launch. Previous participants have gone on to see great success with their businesses, with innovative ideas including zero waste menstrual products, intuitive drone control software, and an early detection tool for crop diseases.
This year’s winner, Suchaya Mahuttanatan, has created a new type of orthopaedic cast that is breathable, washable and easy to apply without the need for additional equipment. She says it could revolutionise the bone healing experience.
Alice Gast and Alexsis de Raadt St James write: “If female entrepreneurs are given the space and support to explore start-up ideas in their student years, they thrive. This means targeted interventions, access to mentorship, and funding to start their businesses. Green shoots of progress are showing, but we need to see more of these activities.”
Women face considerable financial barriers in the startup world, they say. The British Business Bank recently found that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than a penny. The situation is mirrored across Europe, where 93 cents in every euro of venture capital goes to companies without a single woman on their founding team.
“Follow the money and you can see why - just 8% of partners of the top 100 venture firms globally are women”, they say.
“This is a loss for the investors and for the world. Diversity fuels innovation, and the evidence shows that startups founded or cofounded by women make for significantly better financial investments”
They add: “Investors, entrepreneurs and universities need to get better at coordination and collaboration. Innovation will remain sub-optimal when only one gender is funded. Society pays a steep price for this creative and financial exclusion.
“When investors wonder where the next transformative founder will come from, we have a simple answer: she’s at university, and she needs your support.”
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Communications and Public Affairs
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