Winner of the WE Innovate programme poses for photograph with fellow finalists and high profile judges

A thriving community of entrepreneurial women has emerged at Imperial, whose ideas, startups and social enterprises are having a profound impact on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5).

A 2019 government-backed review found that the UK is losing out on £250 billion of economic value every year because women face barriers to becoming successful entrepreneurs. Meanwhile a recent Harvard Business Review revealed that among venture capital-financed, high-growth technology startups, only 9% of entrepreneurs are women. Catalysing women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment will accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
Imperial has been working in this area for several years with the We Innovate pre-accelerator programme, which caters for early stage business ideas led by women. In total 253 female entrepreneurs have been supported, 34 ventures have been incorporated and £3.2 million has been raised in funding.  

Crucially, these startups are having an impact on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Student Olivia Ahn founded startup Planera which is developing zero-waste, flushable menstrual pads to tackle the environmental impact of disposable sanitary products. Planera is working with the Indian government to develop low cost reusable sanitary pads, that can be given to schools and villages in a bid to make menstrual health and hygiene sustainable and accessible to all. 

Another student from the programme Clementine Chambon launched Oorja Development Solutions, which is currently working in rural India installing pay-as-you-go community solar pumping systems, as an alternative to expensive and unreliable diesel irrigations pumps. They have already run three successful pilots in the region – transforming the fortunes of farming communities. 

Professor Maggie Dallman Vice President (International) and Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships) comments: “Over the past five years, the WE Innovate programme has supported hundreds of women on their entrepreneurial journeys. At a time where fewer than one in ten venture capital dollars go to female-founded companies, this support is critical.  

“The businesses to emerge from the programme have the potential to disrupt industries, solve problems and improve lives.”