Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Where are the women entrepreneurs, angels and venture capitalists?

by Heather Thompson, VP Professional Development, ASTP-Proton

Women remain under-represented in science and business including in the creation and operation of spin-off companies from public research institutions. Whilst a recent study lead by Cassidy Sugimoto at Indiana University reported that women in academia globally are patenting at a higher rate compared to those in industry or as individuals from USPTO filings analysed between 1976 and 20131, this has not fed through to significant increases in the numbers of women founding spin-out companies from Universities. A study of spin-outs created by UK universities published in July 2015 by the Enterprise Research Centre found that just 8.3% of University spin-outs included a woman as a member of the founding team2.
Over the last few years, several US universities initiated programmes within their institutions to address this imbalance by offering specific mentoring and development opportunities for aspiring female entrepreneurs. Powerful examples of these are the ACTiVATE programme at the George Washington University, and the eWITS (Empowering Women in Technology Startups) Programme developed by Jane Muir at the University of Florida. In Europe, the European Commission recognised ‘Women in Science’ as one of its key themes in 2013 and has initiated several projects aimed at addressing the gender imbalance which adversely impacts the capacity of European countries to maximise the potential of research and innovation activities.
The reasons for such a gender imbalance are many and complex and they are also the subject of academic studies.  A recent online article by Rachel Thomas3 summarises some of this knowledge and provides an analysis of some of the hurdles to progress for women, together with some examples of best practice and practical advice for employers and leaders to avoid the pitfalls of unconscious bias in their organisations.  As technology transfer professionals we have a role to play in encouraging and supporting the female entrepreneurs that we work with, ensuring that their successes are celebrated and that they become powerful role models for the next generation.