How Universities Are Encouraging Female Entrepreneurship

William Barnard

03 April 2019

This week we’re looking at university-supported programmes to encourage entrepreneurship amongst students, especially female students.

Ranked as a leading technological hub, London’s continued success in tech innovation is driven in part by extensive financial support for universities from the public sector. With one of the most mature startup ecosystems globally, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of support for entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey – at university. Despite this, we see continued gender disparities in entrepreneurship.

University entrepreneurship initiatives operate across a multitude of sectors. For example, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have made a £115 million commitment from to fund postgraduate programmes focused on Artificial Intelligence. Complimenting a regional based-approach, citing a £10-£50m pledge to approximately six cyber-security companies emerging out of the University of Bristol as a key example, the UK continues to cultivate an environment that supports technological innovation.

The current landscape, however, aligns public focus with another pressing enterprise and societal issue: gender inclusion. A recent report by the British Business Bank highlights the state of the issue, noting that for every £1 of venture capital investment in the UK, all-female founder teams receive less than 1p, while 83% of UK VC deals made in the last year had no women on the founding teams. Another report by the Rose Review finds that, by working to close the gender-gap in innovation, the UK has the ability to add an additional £250 billion in GVA.

In response to the report, both government and universities have rightly implemented initiatives to facilitate change in this area. Amidst a number of actionable items, including supporting an industry-led task force and setting up a female-focused investment fund, the government has outlined a goal of increasing the number of female entrepreneurs by 50%, supported by a new Code for Investing in Women. Universities, on the other hand, have taken a more direct approach by promoting accelerator programmes specifically catered towards female-entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech space.

The six-month Imperial College-based accelerator programme WE Innovate is designed to support the next generation of female entrepreneurs through mentorship programmes and training in key areas. Notable programme alumni includes Pae Natwilai of TRIK, which uses automated drones to check for damage or defects to large structures. She was named to Forbes 30 under 30 in Europe list in addition to securing £300,000 of funding from InnovateUK, a division of UKRI. Amongst the GovTech companies within the current cohort, standouts include MiChip, a portable test which could detect a range of diseases at the bedside developed by Martina Oliver Huidobro, as well as Tommy, a wearable device which uses machine learning software to help accurately read the glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes developed by Changavy Kajamuhan. Cadget, a breathable, washable and comfortable cast for patients with broken bones or fractures lead by Suchaya Mahuttanatan won the top prize at a final showcase for this year’s cohort.

Another prime example of efforts to promote female innovation includes King’s College-based accelerator Kings20, which recently introduced the Women Entrepreneurs Programme with the hopes of closing the gender gap across all of its university-led entrepreneurial activities. The university cites its past success with female-led teams as a key component to the programme’s success. More developed projects include Resilio, a mental-wellbeing mobile platform, which is currently supported by the NHS and Public Health England as a platform to manage stress and anxiety. Younger projects include Student Nurse Resources, a mobile educational platform for training nurses, led by Dr. Katy Sutherland who looks to match with multiple NHS Trusts. The programme operates with the support of Santander Universities and aims to ensure that approximately half of the ventures in the accelerator cohort will be women-led.

While the divergent initiatives within the public and private sector spark great promise in closing the gender gap, further progress remains needed in connecting these young ventures with officials. Such an initiative would not only encourage a revolutionising generation of female-lead teams but would also lead to diversified and innovative methods for solving the greatest public challenges.

Applications for our GovTech accelerator programme GovStart are now open – want to find out more? Get in touch.

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