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UF Collaboratory Provides Strategic Solutions for Women Innovators


Written By: Kathy Sohar, Director for the Collaboratory for Women Innovators and Associate Director of Women's Entrepreneurial Programs at the UF Warrington College of Business

In your home, who makes the majority of your purchasing decisions?

It may not surprise you to hear that women drive the majority of consumer spending in the United States — reports cite that women influence up to 85 percent of consumer spending, which translates to $7 trillion annually. Globally, that number rises to $20 trillion annually.

This phenomenon is not limited to product purchases. Women are often the decision-makers behind less tangible purchases (financial decisions) such as family healthcare services and insurance. Nine out of 10 women will be responsible for their own or their family’s finances at some point in life.

Despite this market share domination, industries have been surprisingly slow to capitalize on opportunities to provide products that take women’s perspectives into account. On the contrary, as serial entrepreneur Danielle Kayembe pointed out, “Most of the structures, design, technology and products we interact with are designed with males as the default.”

Systemic reasons are behind this, but at a fundamental level, women are significantly underrepresented in all aspects of technology commercialization: the process of inventing, developing and bringing products to market.

We created the Collaboratory for Women Innovators to help address some of these issues by providing strategic solutions to increase the number of women involved in creating new innovations and bringing them to market.

The Collaboratory offers a portfolio of programs and resources to support women at various stages of their journeys. We have programs to engage women at earlier stages, perhaps when they are interested in learning more about the entrepreneurship process.

We also work with academics to help them recognize that their research projects may have commercial potential. At a fundamental level, we want to help women stretch beyond their comfort zones and support them in recognizing and pursuing opportunities in entrepreneurial and innovative fields. This may include starting a company themselves or going to work for a technology or startup company. This may mean stepping up more in their current positions and taking on more leadership roles within their companies.

And despite the name, many of the Collaboratory programs are open to all genders. The Collaboratory aims to be an inclusive space that promotes diversity within innovation. Diversity is a crucial element for innovation: Approaching problem-solving from unique viewpoints and bringing varied experiences to the table maximizes an organization’s ability to discover the most effective, efficient solutions.

Research correlating diversity in leadership with market outcomes shows that companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and outperform more homogenous companies: Diverse companies were 45 percent more likely to report market share growth and 70 percent more likely to report that they captured a new market.

Recently launched in March 2018, the Collaboratory is part of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business and is located in the new wing of UF Innovate | The Hub, the technology business incubator formerly called the Innovation Hub at UF. The location provides great synergy between the UF campus and the Gainesville startup community.

The Collaboratory launch coincided with The Hub’s Phase II expansion in early 2018. The expansion now brings The Hub incubator space to 100,000 square feet and builds on the incubator’s record of success in growing technology-based startups since it opened in 2011.

The Collaboratory developed as an outgrowth of the successful Empowering Women in Technology Startups program (EWITS®). The program began in 2012 and provides experiential hands-on entrepreneurial training and skills for women.

In addition, the program addresses topics to help empower participants to overcome gender barriers to entry. Many think of entrepreneurs as businesspeople, but entrepreneurs come from all walks of life.

EWITS® offers opportunities to women with a variety of professional backgrounds, from science and engineering to business functions such as marketing and accounting. EWITS® leverages women’s unique skills and perspectives for new business creation and transforms participants from employees to employers.

To date, six cohorts have gone through the EWITS® program, producing nearly 300 graduates. Amazing women in the community have supported the program by sharing their time and expertise, serving as mentors, speakers and panelists over the years.

The next cohort of EWITS® will start the program in September 2018. Visit www.ewits.org for more information.

Other programming offered at the Collaboratory includes: workshops and speaker series; the Startup Roadmap program to help grow or launch early stage ventures; Innovation Impact programming for female faculty and researchers and the annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium.

You can engage with the Collaboratory in several ways: as a participant, a mentor or a sponsor. To learn more about the Collaboratory program offerings, please visit our website, join our mailing list and follow us on social media!

We hope to see you at an upcoming event or program.

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Kathy Sohar, PH.D., is the Director for the Collaboratory for Women Innovators and Associate Director of Women’s Entrepreneurial Programs at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business. Dr. Sohor is also the cofounder of the Empowering Women in Technology Startups program (EWITS). She previously served as Assistant Director of UF Innovate|The Hub, a technology business incubator, as well as Chair for the AUTM Women Inventors Committee and a mentor for Gainesville Girls Rock Camp.

 

Photography by Michelle Friedline

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