Third eWiTS program sees 50 women learn the business behind technology companies

The University of Florida Innovation Hub hosted the third Empowering Women in Technology Startups (eWiTS) business pitch competition on June 3, where 50 local women from all walks of life presented the culmination of nine weeks of classes and hours of work outside of the program to four successful female judges out of the biotech and business world.

The program, which has seen 150 women pass through its classes, was designed as a way to bring more women into the world of technology and startups by way of education and a network for the participants to call on. The 50 participants were divided into seven teams, each headed by a local female mentor, and assigned a University of Florida technology that is available for licensing through the Office of Technology Licensing that they would develop a business plan around. Participants included teachers, engineers, students, researchers and business owners, among others.

This cohort consisted of teams with technologies like an app and education course that would help doctors both understand and implement end-of-life decisions, a wastewater filter, a urinary test for kidney stones, a glove device to assist professionals and bystanders with CPR, a nonabsorbable and nontoxic sunscreen technology, a urinary test for lung diseases and a less invasive device designed to help treat cervical cancer.

Aditi Malviya, a software engineer interested in starting her own company, said that whatever team she is on in her regular life she’s always the only woman, so being on an all-woman team allowed her to not feel like she had to play it safe.

Ph.D. student Shweta Kailasan said that she’s walking away with a large contact network, a broader knowledge of the startup community in Gainesville and a confidence that she could help start a company.

“The fear element is gone,” she said. “We know we can start a company now, and we can start one with a product we didn’t have to invent.”

The EZ MediTest team walked away with the first-place prize and an iPad for each team member. EZ took a urinary test for oxalates, which cause kidney stones, and developed a capsule system with a screw-on top that contains the test strip inside. The capsule can be used by kidney stone sufferers to monitor their oxalate levels.

“One of the things I love about this program is that it’s multicultural and brings in people from lots of different backgrounds, ages and experience,” said team mentor Marilyn Tubb. “It was intense, but they learned a lot.”

Jane Muir, the director of the Innovation Hub, said that the team is planning the next competition but doesn’t have a date set.

“One of the amazing things about this program is that we’ve only ever had a couple of people not finish the program,” she said. “They all have really busy schedules with jobs and school, but they’re obviously getting something really valuable from this.”

Muir said that the next stage for the program is to figure out how to roll it out of Gainesville. “We’re getting interest from all over the world,” she said.

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