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U Oregon program seeks to address key challenges faced by women innovators

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: September 8th, 2021

A detailed article on the University of Oregon’s Women’s Innovation Network appears in the August issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here

Gender-specific barriers to success in innovation are being addressed at the University of Oregon through the Women’s Innovation Network (, a nine-month program launching in October that’s open to UO faculty members, staff, and students as well as members of the community.

The program is aiming to help female faculty members, researchers, students, and entrepreneurs develop the necessary skills to bring their research to market and/or successfully launch and sustain start-ups. The program is supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and Onward Eugene, which seeks to grow the number of start-ups in the region. It is housed in the university’s Innovation Partnership Services unit, which works with UO researchers, the public, and industry to accelerate the adoption of products derived from UO research and education.

“This is really a recognition by the university that we have fewer women disclose innovations to us,” says Christine Gramer, senior technology development associate and co-leader of the program. “When you look at the data for start-ups, the funding numbers are pretty abysmal.”

“We had all attended a session [on women in commercialization] at AUTM that was a catalyst,” adds Mandy Gettler, senior innovation asset administrator and co-leader of the program. “The information they brought forth was pretty incredible — 35% to 40% fewer disclosures [among women], and less than 11% of university start-ups have a female founder.”

The Associate Vice President for Innovation, she recalls, threw out the question: What do you want to do about this? “Our reaction was, ‘Oh, we get to do something about this?’” Gettler says. “The institutional support has been pretty phenomenal.”

With TTOs, she continues, “it’s easy to think of things as a pipeline — university to community. But that feels a little flat and reductive. The administration really gets that; we’re blessed to be working with this team, who sees a greater need to … affect the ecosystem in which the faculty is working.”

“We started brainstorming about what we could create,” adds Gramer. “We’ve put in place something that will have meaningful impact for participants, rather than one seminar with a token woman talking about her experiences.” The program will include monthly seminars, social events, and small-group mentor calls. Participants will interface with experts in company formation, fundraising, business pitches, grants, rhetoric and pragmatics, and public-private partnerships.

Gettler stresses the program is for the long haul, not a one-and-done effort. “We wanted something that would have sustained duration; a one-time [event] is not the systemic change which we target. This is an entire academic year,” she says.

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