A lack of diversity among product design teams has negatively impacted the experience women have with countless products. For instance, when seat belts were created, they were designed with the average man in mind. As a result, studies have shown that seat-belted women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured than seat-belted men in car crashes.
The effects of this lack of diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields goes beyond the design of products, however. Women are less likely to participate in STEM to begin with, much less patent and commercialize their inventions. Of all patent holders, only 10 percent are women.
Organizations across the country are trying to change this dynamic by creating programs designed to increase diversity in innovation, entrepreneurship, and patenting. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in conjunction with Qualcomm, recently issued a report on seven such organizations that can act as resources and inspirations for newer programs.
One program included in the research, BioSTL, connects women, minority, and immigrant innovators with resources and people who can help them commercialize innovations related to bioscience tech industry. Dr. Cheryl Watkins-Moore, director of bioscience and entrepreneurial inclusion at BioSTL, says moves toward inclusive and equitable entrepreneurship will be a major trend this year, “ensuring that all that want to participate in entrepreneurship and have great ideas [and] technologies are supported, mentored, and funded equitably.”
Here’s what women and underrepresented entrepreneurs can learn from this recent research about ways to move their innovative ideas forward:
1. Find experts to work with you one-on-one.
The Accelerating Women and underRepresented Entrepreneurs (AWARE) program has found success in having an Entrepreneur in Residence work with program participants individually on the patenting and commercialization process. Working one-on-one with each member, the EIR acts as a mentor and helps would-be entrepreneurs access important resources. Mentorship can mean the difference between success and failure for many businesses — in fact, founders that have been mentored by top-performing business executives are three times more likely to eventually have top-performing businesses themselves.
But it’s not just about mentorship. Startups often make costly, potentially damaging legal mistakes when they’re just beginning, such as not complying with securities laws or ignoring intellectual property protection. You need to work with experts in business law, HR, and finance to ensure you’re establishing your business on a solid footing.
2. Engage in hands-on learning.
Being a lifelong learner is an important quality for STEM entrepreneurs and professionals. It allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of the marketplace, stay ahead of automation at work, and even reduce stress and slow cognitive decline. A study by Babson College reveals that experiential learning helps newer and future entrepreneurs tap into both their creative and logical minds to be successful.
Seek out opportunities for hands-on learning to reap these benefits. For instance, a 10-week program at the University of Florida, Empowering Women in Technology Startups (EWITS), helps women learn how to commercialize inventions. During the program, participants are split into groups and given the task of developing a business model for a real technology. With the guidance of an experienced businesswoman, each team builds a simulated company around the technology, ending with a pitch to a panel of female investors, who judge each proposal and provide feedback to all teams.
3. Access federal research dollars.
Researchers continue to assess the extent to which gender bias leads to disparities in federal funding across various STEM grant programs. One study concluded that a subconscious gender bias could be causing individuals reviewing National Institutes of Health grant renewal applications to hold women to higher standards than men, meaning women applicants don’t have the same continued funding opportunities as their male counterparts. Fortunately, several grants have been created specifically with women in mind in an effort to combat such disparities.
For example, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase Assistance Program was created to work directly with women- and minority-owned small businesses to assist with applications for DOE SBIR/STTR Phase 1 awards. It acts to increase diversity by connecting applicants with mentors and other industry experts who can provide even more assistance to these budding entrepreneurs.
Breaking into STEM fields is hard enough as it is, but when women and minorities have even more difficulty patenting and commercializing their inventions, we all lose. By addressing these inequities, we’re more likely to gain products that truly work for everyone.