Features October 2017

The Collaboratory for Women Innovators Engaging More Women in Innovation & Entrepreneurship


Written By: Jane Muir & Ann Collett

Nationally and locally, women are under-represented in all stages of the Innovation Lifecycle — from invention disclosure and patenting to commercialization with established and startup companies. The University of Florida is one of the largest public research universities in the country and is recognized as a leader for its technology commercialization efforts. And, while university leadership recognizes the importance of ensuring greater inclusion of women in the Innovation Lifecycle, like most universities, it has not been able to crack the code.

The majority of all UF patents do not include women inventors, and only a small percentage of the 200 UF startup companies created over the past 15 years include women founders. While many say, we are making progress, that progress is slow, particularly within STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine) based fields.

  • Less than 10% of U.S. patents have women as the lead inventor and only 20% of all patents have women inventors listed
  • The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently published an analysis using current trends to project that the US will not achieve gender parity in patenting until 2092
  • Osage University Partners – a VC fund with a singular focus on university startups – recently noted that in the approximate 6,000 companies in their database, only 11% of companies had a female scientific founder or co-founder
  • The growth of female-owned businesses between 2007 – 2012 in Alachua County (9%) is lagging significantly behind the state (39%) and the nation (27%)

The lack of inclusion of women means we are significantly under-utilizing a substantial talent pool that could be helping drive our economy through the creation of technology startups and the creation of potentially patentable discoveries that are the basis for products that improve our world.

Extensive research has been done documenting the lower rates of female participation; however, effective strategies to improve this phenomenon are much less common. The lack of inclusion of women means we are significantly under-utilizing a substantial talent pool that could be helping drive our economy through the creation of technology startups and the creation of potentially patentable discoveries that are the basis for products that improve our world.

Fortunately, with the expansion of the Innovation Hub at the University of Florida, our community will soon have an entrepreneurial woman’s center called the Collaboratory for Women Innovators. Its mission will be to inspire, educate and empower women in all stages of the innovation life-cycle.

Why now?

It is timely to focus on growing women’s entrepreneurship in the local economy, because Alachua County is not experiencing the same explosive growth in female-owned businesses as the rest of the U.S. and Florida.

The growth in number of female-owned businesses in Alachua County between 2007 to 2012, significantly trails both the U.S. average (9.7% vs. 26.8%), and the Florida average (9.7% vs. 39%).

On the education front, women hold the majority of Bachelor’s+ degrees in Alachua County.

Compared to the U.S. average, the percent of women in Alachua County with Bachelor’s+ degrees are significantly higher (40% vs. 30%).

We have highly educated women in the workforce, a thriving innovation ecosystem, and a robust research engine; all the key elements for growing a more inclusive innovation economy. This isn’t just a moral issue, it is an economic imperative.

Research shows that advanced and emerging economies already suffer from a significant skills gap. Job positions remain unfilled, which is holding back the growth of key industries and slowing economic development. In the age of innovation, communities that cannot close the gender gap, will not succeed.

Building the Innovation Hub at the University of Florida almost six years ago, we learned the power of place. The ability to bring like-minded individuals together to share their entrepreneurial journey significantly impacts their likelihood of success. In order to ensure more women participate, the Collaboratory for Women Innovators, which is expected to open in early 2018, plans to be that place where women can receive the mentoring and coaching to help them address some of the unique challenges they face in their entrepreneurial journeys.

 

Source: US Census Bureau 2007 & 2012 Survey of Business Owners

JANE MUIR’S career spans three decades with a broad range of professional experiences in marketing, management and technology transfer. She spent the first decade of her career in the private sector and for the past 25 plus years she has held leadership roles in technology transfer at the University of Florida. She currently serves as Director of the Florida Innovation Hub at UF – a soon to be 100,000 square foot technology incubator. She is co- founder of Ewits and Startup Quest; both programs targeted at providing experiential entrepreneurial training in a virtual technology startup.
Muir has served in leadership positions on numerous boards including two terms on the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) board and is a past President for the AUTM.

ANN COLLETT is a strategist, marketer, communicator and economic developer. She works with national economic development consultancies and other clients on strategic planning projects. Collett spent close to a decade at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce leading the Council for Economic Outreach and pioneering Innovation Gainesville. She is currently president of St. John the Baptist – Jean Rabel, Inc. and is on the board of directors for BBVA Compass. She speaks regularly to communities about strategic implementation and collaboration.

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