New Western program aims to empower women innovators

A new program led by WORLDiscoveries is creating opportunities for women and underrepresented researchers to turn their innovations into business opportunities.

Funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund, the new WE-Empower program provides year-round mentorship for principal investigators, post-doctoral trainees and graduate students, who identify as women who are Black, Indigenous or from diverse underrepresented groups, with support and training on technology transfer, research commercialization, intellectual property and entrepreneurship.

The program was a result of an equity, diversity and inclusion assessment that identified a gap in the number of disclosures of innovation among lead female principal investigators, said Souzan Armstrong, executive director for WORLDiscoveries and lead recipient of the grant.

“With the program dedicated to women in technology and underrepresented groups, we are facilitating a path to create a more equitable and inclusive Western community,” she said.

WORLDiscoveries is the business development arm of a research partnership between Western, Robarts Research Institute and Lawson Health Research Institute. WE-Empower joins other Western programs that help promote the commercialization of research innovations, including the Western Medical Innovation Fellowship and Graduate Student Innovation Scholars.

“WE-Empower is an ambitious program that aims to contribute and further Western’s strategic plan commitments on all three pillars: greater impact, people community and culture, and Western’s place in the world,” said Armstrong.

Beginning in September, WE-Empower will provide training and funding to 30 female-identifying, Black, Indigenous or other underrepresented researchers. Recruitment starts this July.

“The WE-Empower program provides an opportunity to support women and underrepresented groups in overcoming the barriers that prevent them from disclosing and commercializing their research or being an entrepreneur,” said Saqib Sachani, business development manager at WORLDiscoveries who was responsible for developing the curriculum of the program. “This program also provides training and internship opportunities for post-docs and students as an alternate career once they complete their studies.”

Devised in three distinct phases – ideation, innovation and technology mobilization – this program will include a series of presentations and networking events given by leaders in the technology-transfer field, all guided towards practical education.

Researchers will be paired with a business development manager at WORLDiscoveries; mentors and related-industry professionals; and patent agents and intellectual property specialists to discuss patentability and develop an intellectual property strategy for their projects.

“Entrepreneurship is also a key focus on the program, for which we will collaborate very closely with Western’s Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship,” said Armstrong. Participants will receive training and support on starting a company, building a team, and bringing their product to market. Various aspects of entrepreneurship will be covered, which include market research, value proposition, pitching, developing minimum viable products, business modeling, building a viable financial model for a start-up, fundraising and marketing strategy.

The program is also an opportunity for the researchers to network and seek mentorship with industry leaders.

“By providing our scholars with a platform to learn more about research commercialization and entrepreneurship, we are creating more value for a Western graduate globally,” said Armstrong.

As WORLDiscoveries prepare for the September launch of the program, women and underrepresented principal investigators, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students from across campus are encouraged to fill out the expression of interest form on the WE-Empower website to apply.

“By innovating and supporting the development of new technologies, IP protection from diverse research areas on campus we are creating a platform for industry and the world to engage with Western researchers,” Armstrong said.

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