Tech Transfer eNews Blog

NJIT researchers join $1.25M project to identify and eliminate barriers for women inventors and entrepreneurs


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: November 17th, 2021

A team of researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has set out to identify and eradicate barriers to technology commercialization among women inventors and entrepreneurs.

According to a recent study, men with doctorates in STEM fields are nearly twice as likely to hold at least one patent as their female counterparts. The NJIT research team is part of a collaboration that has received a $1.25 million ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to get to the bottom of this discrepancy and others, and to come up with potential solutions that could help level the playing field when it comes to university tech transfer.

“It’s important to recognize and redress these inequities, not only as a matter of fairness, but also because the lack of diversity in entrepreneurship diminishes the diversity of new ideas and hurts U.S. technological innovation and economic competitiveness as a whole,” says Treena Arinzeh, professor at NJIT and member of the research team.

“One of the challenges is overcoming implicit biases, such as assumptions about whom we should encourage and who the top inventors are likely to be,” adds Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, associate professor at NJIT and member of the team. “Women have absorbed these biases, and, in some cases, feel their project has to be 100% perfect before they even pursue a patent.”

The team will collaborate with members of the New Jersey Equity in Commercialization Collective (NJECC), which includes NJIT, New Jersey City University, Princeton University, Rowan University and others. The participating universities will start by gathering data on their own campuses on entrepreneurial participation, including patent applications by gender, ethnicity and race.

“The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office itself has not collected this data systematically in the past,” says Steffen-Fluhr.

The group will then conduct anti-bias training for people in pivotal posts, or “gatekeepers,” including those who direct technology transfer offices; create strategies to broaden the inclusion of underrepresented inventors; and launch entrepreneurship programs to encourage these inventors.

The team’s overall goal is to significantly increase the diversity of STEM researchers in the state who become successful innovators and entrepreneurs.

“I worked first in industry and the mentality there is very much about commercializing innovations. I came to academia with a different mindset,” says Arinzeh, who holds 15 patents of her own. “I also had great collaborators here at NJIT, including men, who prompted me to pursue my ideas. But I know that for some women it can seem like a black box, particularly if they lack mentors. We need to make sure they understand the value of commercialization and how it can contribute to research and help secure grants, as well as how to go about it.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Empowering and Supporting Women and Underserved Populations in University Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a distance learning program detailing how the University of Florida and Washington University in St. Louis are bringing women and other underserved communities to the commercialization table and bringing positive change to their campuses. Click here for more details.

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