Educating Women in Technology Startups

Jane Muir, director of the Florida Innovation Hub and the founder of eWiTS, spearheaded the program in the spring of 2012.

If North Central Florida mirrors national trends, then women are taking fewer of the entrepreneurial opportunities that Gainesville offers than men take, and they make up a smaller share of the region’s tech startup community.

Rather than being linked to any essential or constructed difference between the sexes, research suggests that this might be because women tend to hold themselves back from professional opportunities, waiting instead to be invited to participate.

In an effort to break this tendency, 55 women were invited to participate in the Florida Innovation Hub’s “Educating Women in Technology Startups” program nine weeks ago. On Tuesday November 6, these women showed that the status quo is already changing.

Nine teams that have been working on business plans for nine new inventions for the last nine weeks finally pitched their concepts to a panel of all female investors at the Florida Innovation Hub.

Director of eWiTS and also of the Florida Innovation Hub, Jane Muir, created eWiTS as a way for local women interested in business to come together, build professional networks, and hone the skills required to pitch tech startup ideas to investors.

“These women came together and we put them into virtual management teams,” says Muir.

“Once a week, we would teach them various aspects of how to write a business plan [and] how to give their investor presentation,” she says.

Harmony Inc. won first prize at the closing event of the inaugural Educating Women in Technology Startups.

Each team had to develop a business plan for taking an invention to market. Each invention had at least one female co-inventor at the University of Florida.

The winning team, Harmony Inc., pitched a business plan for a new middle ear prosthesis, called “A Capella,” that will help people with conductive hearing loss. The device would be unique because it can be adjusted externally, without additional surgery.

“Current implants cannot be adjusted. You have to go back and do surgery again,” said Paola Miller, a member of Harmony Inc., and a UF mechanical engineering alumna.

A Capella will eliminate the risk of infections and other problems that come from ear implant surgeries, as well as the cost patients pay for those services, says Miller.

Harmony Inc. took home an iPad, complimentary yearlong membership in the hub and in GAIN, and gift certificates to Dragonfly, according to Muir.

One of the main goals of eWiTS was to provide women with an empowering network of mentors that would facilitate creative collaboration.

Miller has personally taken home a renewed self-confidence to pursue her professional goals. She has decided to return to school and earn a masters degree in biomedical engineering, she said.

“[eWiTs] has given me confidence. It’s given me the ability to understand that I can do other things than just worry about my kids,” says Miller.


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