On Tuesday, the University of Florida Office of Technology Licensing, UF TechConnect and the Florida Innovation Hub held the second Empowering Women in Technology Startups (eWiTS) competition. The program is designed to increase the number of women in STEM leadership roles, increase networking opportunities for women in STEM fields and provide mentoring and educational platforms for women.
The program involved 44 women divided into seven teams, each with a mentor, that had 10 weeks to take a technology available for licensing through the university and build a company around it. Teams consisted of women from different backgrounds, like marketing, finance and science. Each presentation before a panel of successful businesswomen and entrepreneurs involved a presentation of the technology, the problem it addresses, how the team planned to create a product around it and concluded with market and competitive analyses that allowed them to create a five-year plan for their company.
Presenting companies included P-BEE, which uses a technology to track respiratory diseases through an enzyme released in urine; Gator Smile, which uses an oral probiotic to introduce good bacteria that destroy bad bacteria to promote mouth health; ClO2GO, which uses a hand-wipe technology to allow chlorine dioxide — a powerful disinfect — to last more than its normal 30 minutes for use in hospitals; Curatio Coatings, LLC., which uses platinum coils coated in a proprietary biological coating to help heal aneurysms; Savor-E, which uses electrical stimulation to help people with disabling diseases like Alzheimer’s to swallow; AnocTec, which uses a technology to help detect gastrointestinal toxicity in cancer patients who receive radiation treatment; and Botanica, which uses a low-cost biochar agricultural product to trap water contaminants.
Jane Muir, the director of the Florida Innovation Hub, put the program together with her small team in order to provide short-term entrepreneurial training and to create a mindset of innovation in the women that participate by empowering them with the resources and mentorship needed to create a successful technology company.
“Look at the stats,” she said, pointing to eWiTS.org, which has an entire section of articles touting the benefits and challenges of women in STEM. “Even when we opened the Hub, there were no woman CEOs. Less than six percent of venture capital funds go to women-run businesses.”
“But when women do get involved with these companies, return on investment is better,” she said. “Women clearly have a competitive advantage, and we’re trying to nurture that.”
Priscilla Arinson, the chief financial officer for the Gator Smile team, is a local entrepreneur and owner of Milagro Enterprises. She said that she got involved with the program after the managing team saw her own technology that is designed to cap deep sea oil wells in an effort to curb accidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“I though we worked really well together,” she said, noting that team members supported each other by using their own expertise. “Lots of stuff I learned here will help me in the future.”
Susan Baumgartner, the vice president of business development for Xhale, a medical patient monitoring solutions company, was a returning mentor who helped guide the AnocTec team. It’s amazing to watch the teams take a one-sheet description of a technology, interview the licensing officer and then turn that into a business plan and investor pitch in just 10 weeks, she said.
“It was great to watch them learn, and say ‘Oh that’s the question I need to ask, oh that’s who we need to talk to,’” she said. A couple of her mentees are taking what they learned and reworking their own business ideas.
“It’s a great platform,” she said. “A lot of these women have the know-how, but maybe not the confidence, and this gives them the tools to shine.”
In the end the third-place prize went to team Savor-E; the second-place prize went to team Curation Coating; and the first-place prize went to team ClO2GO.
“It feels really rewarding,” said ClO2GO mentor Jana Jones. “They’re a great team, and an amazing group of women.”
Team member Helena Cowley said that it may be cliché, but even if they hadn’t won, every team member already felt like a winner.
“It’s been such an amazing experience,” she said. “It was interesting to dig in and find that there really was a need for this technology.”
As for whether the team will move forward with their company and attempt to take it to market, team member Janalyn Peppel said that they have received very positive feedback from investors that want them to move forward.
“It’s definitely something to sit down and discuss,” she said.