09:27 AM

​Closing gender gap in STEM entrepreneurship is focus of D.C. summit

As long as women in STEM fields at universities encounter cultural barriers to their success as innovators, the American economy will miss out on the creative new technologies that women could bring to the marketplace, leaders in the sciences say.

With an eye toward fostering a more inclusive entrepreneurial environment, The Ohio State University is partnering with the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) to spark a national conversation about improving opportunities for women professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to share their innovations with the world.

The organizations are hosting the 2015 National Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship: A Roadmap for Inclusion, which takes place Thursday, April 30, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The event, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., will be live-streamed, and organizers will welcome registered viewers to join the conversation through social media.

Joan Herbers

The summit will focus on how industry, academia and government can collaborate to develop systems to drive research excellence, feed long-term economic growth and fuel innovative solutions to global challenges facing all citizens. Summit outcomes will be used to urge elected officials and federal agencies to consider policy changes relating to gender that will enhance the country’s global competitiveness.

“We have worked very hard at Ohio State to chip away at the cultural issues surrounding academic science, and to identify and deal with any other issues that might impede women’s careers,” said Joan Herbers, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State and the university’s lead organizer for the innovation and entrepreneurship summit.

“Nurturing women innovators in academia, which has been an intense focus for us at Ohio State, is a critical step, but we can’t stop there. This summit is addressing gender inequity on a much grander scale – and will expose the need for a change in thinking among policymakers, employers and funders.”

Ohio State has made gender equity in the STEM fields a priority for several years, and Herbers spearheaded the creation of an initiative called Project CEOS, or Comprehensive Equity at Ohio State, as principal investigator on more than $4 million in grants from the National Science Foundation.

The initiative was designed to increase the presence and success of women at all faculty ranks and in faculty leadership positions across the STEM disciplines. To carry on the original project’s work, Ohio State’s Office of Research established the Office of Gender Initiatives in STEMM (STEM + medicine) to enhance the recruitment and retention of women faculty members from diverse populations in STEMM disciplines.

Herbers, also a longtime member and past president of AWIS, said broadening opportunities for women scientists in academia is important because many entrepreneurial efforts destined for commercialization begin at research universities.

The summit will cover a range of issues that apply not just to academia, but also to industry and government. Its three principal themes are: describing where innovation happens and how it spreads; creating environments that foster innovation; and identifying funding sources for future innovators.

Joseph Steinmetz, Ohio State’s executive vice president and provost, will open the summit, and Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State, will participate in a panel on the “ideal ecosystem” of innovation. Herbers will also participate in a panel discussion about how employers can create STEM environments that allow all ideas to flourish. And Jean Schelhorn, director of commercialization for Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will close the program. Thomas Rosol, Ohio State professor of veterinary biosciences, and Samantha Howe, CEOS program director, also served on the local organizing committee.

The keynote address will be delivered by Jeffrey Wadsworth, president and CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus. Wadsworth is also the current chair of Ohio State’s Board of Trustees.

Ultimately, summit organizers say, understanding and embracing an expanded model of entrepreneurship that takes into account the experiences, motivations and developmental needs of both genders will enhance innovation across multiple work platforms.

Registration and live-stream information about the summit is available online here.