From all walks of life, women entrepreneurs in Gainesville have gathered together for an innovative program sure to grab the attention from science and technology enthusiasts. eWiTS, Empowering Women in Technology Startups, is a pilot program in Gainesville that was designed to open doors to women from diverse professional backgrounds and fulfill Innovation Gainesville’s initiative of making Gainesville a hub for startup companies. With the intention to motivate women to enter STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and bring in new businesses to the startup community, eWiTS has provided women with necessary training that will leverage a woman’s unique skills and perspective on business creation.
Jane Muir, director of the Florida Innovation Hub at the University of Florida and EDA UF Tech Connect, and associate director of the Office of Technology Licensing Office of Research, explained that women represent two-thirds of the purchasing power of Alachua County, where women are also receiving more college degrees than men.
“Less than 15 percent of Fortune 500 companies CEOs are women and only 6 percent of venture capital funding is investing in startups of women-founded companies,” said Muir. “The statistics need to change.”
According to Muir, a key advocate and leader of Innovation Gainesville, research has shown that there are some common barriers that deter women. Among them are lack of self-confidence, lack of training, lack of a mentoring network and family/life balance issues.
“eWiTS aims to help with the first three. By empowering women with entrepreneurial training and surrounding them with role models and mentors, they will garner the self-confidence they need to take a chance on themselves,” said Muir. “Women need to change the way we think about ourselves. When we do, others will follow.”
The eWiTS program plans to transform these women from employees to employers by achieving four goals: Increasing the number of women in leadership roles in STEM industries, increasing networking opportunities locally for women in STEM fields, encouraging women to assume lead roles in STEM companies, and providing mentoring and educational platforms regarding leadership and entrepreneurship.
Women who engage in eWiTS are given a unique opportunity to experience the technology commercialization process and access tools required to form a technology startup. With the idea in mind to empower women enough to create technology-based startups, the program participants are also provided with a new skill set to broaden their career development options. The program evolved after Muir recognized an urgent need for women to take a more prominent stand in emerging technology fields.
“The program came about when I hosted a CEO Roundtable at the Innovation Hub Grand Opening in January, and I was the only person wearing a skirt,” said Muir. “I gathered some of my colleagues and we brainstormed about how we could encourage more women to start technology-based companies. After much discussion, we realized using a modified approach that we had developed for Startup Quest was the best way to proceed.”
Keeping in mind the goals of Innovation Gainesville, to raise of the standard of living and create jobs in the Gainesville community, eWiTS is a program that ties together iG’s message in hopes of creating a stronger community that will continue to make cool things happen.
To learn more about eWiTS, visit http://ewits.org/.