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Yale’s amplifyHERscience program focuses on gender equity in commercialization

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 9th, 2021

A detailed article on the Yale amplifyHERscience initiative appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here

It took less than six months to pull together a new initiative at Yale University — called amplifyHERscience — created to encourage and support women faculty to extend the impact of their research beyond academia. It was during a “Shark Tank”-like event towards the end of 2019 that Morag Grassie, PhD, senior associate director of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale, and Michelle McQueen, a communications officer for Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research (OCR), first noticed an alarming lack of women presenters.

“We wanted to create a program that would motivate more women to join the bio-entrepreneurial ecosystem at the same rate as their male colleagues,” Grassie says.

The two women joined forces with colleague Lolahan Kadiri, MD, PhD, senior business development associate in Yale’s OCR — and set to work on creating the amplifyHERscience initiative, which officially launched in the spring of 2020. The program helps women to explore real-life applications of research; de-risk early-stage technologies; and achieve an inflection point to attract external partners for additional research development and commercialization.

“We want more women who are interested in furthering the reach and potential impact of their research to know that they can do so if they want,” McQueen says.

Before the launch amplifyHERscience, Yale had tried several grassroots initiatives and programs to support women entrepreneurs, such as a monthly breakfast among others, but these efforts would quickly fizzle out when the person driving the event left or moved to work on other things.

“We’re now approaching this with a dream of establishing a long-term, self-sustained, comprehensive program that will thrive regardless of staffing changes,” Kadiri says. “For now, we’re in the initial stage and that involves small scale experimentation and a great deal of learning as we go.”

The initiative’s founders did not use an existing, one-size-fits-all women innovator program structure from the outside to implement at Yale, but they collaborate closely with many other women-focused initiatives at their peer institutions to learn, share and evolve.

“We’re still in the initial stages of building the program and doing things like learning about our constituencies and building our women scientist community by working personally with each PI. This is the grassroots approach we’re taking; a ‘top-down’ style,” McQueen says.

These collaborations help connect each organization’s bespoke network and help to create a broader women’s entrepreneurial macro-network across the country. The program founders also took advantage of the general principles outlined by several existing toolkits, including: The Women Inventor’s Toolkit by AUTM and Gender Diversity in Innovation Toolkit, developed by the Women in IP Committee of the Intellectual Property Owners Association ( Internally, they reached out to all relevant affinity groups on campus and leveraged their existing networks and memberships to reach their target audience.

Launching the effort was no small undertaking. With plenty to do in their day jobs, the women spent a lot of late nights putting together amplifyHERscience. “If you’re going to take something like this on, passion is important,” McQueen advises. “But hopefully one day, equity will prevail and programs such as these will no longer be needed.”

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