ACTiVATE Trains Women Entrepreneurs in Tech Commercialization

by Guest Contributor on May 13, 2011

The statistics paint a stark picture: when it comes to business, technology and entrepreneurship, women trail men by a big margin.

Women make up more than 50 percent of America’s labor force but their share in corporate leadership role is far from satisfactory. A 2009 report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology found that in Fortune 500 technology companies, women held only 10 percent of corporate officer positions and 11 percent of director-level positions on boards.

A recent review of biotech and medical products companies in Maryland found that men overwhelmingly outnumbered women as founders, indicating that women are lagging when it comes to entrepreneurship of hi-tech companies.

To tackle the problem, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)–with a four-year grant from the National Science Foundation–launched in 2005 a program called Achieving the Commercialization of Technologies in Ventures through Applied Training for Entrepreneurs (ACTiVATE). I’m participating in the program, and I wanted to tell you about it.

The year-long program is geared toward mid-career women who want to run their own companies in fields ranging from biotechnology and medical application to information technology, and services and consulting.

Experienced entrepreneurs lead the program, with a focus on three core areas: entrepreneurship training, mentoring, and networking.

Unlike traditional entrepreneurial training courses, ACTiVATE uses a hands-on approach training, where participants can develop business plans, as well as launch their own companies.

The program also lays strong emphasis on mentorship, where entrepreneurs help guide the participants in their start-ups. In addition, the program provides wide scope for networking for the participants. Representative from universities and government laboratories are integral to the program and they help introduce participants to technologies that are ready to be commercialized.

To reach out to more people, UMBC has licensed the ACTiVATE program to the non-profit Path Forward Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The Path Forward Center recently launched the program at the George Washington University and has plans for expansion to reach 1,000 women within the next few years.

More than 130 participants have graduated from the program since its launch, and have started nearly 30 companies. These firms generate a number of high-quality jobs, and provide a steady stream of income taxes to states and local governments.

And FemStart, a partnership of six European universities, named the ACTiVATE program as one of the three “Good Practices” programs for training women entrepreneurs across the world.  The other two programs are located in England and Germany.

Of the several ACTiVATE success stories, a couple of noteworthy examples stand out.

Kris Appel, who had little entrepreneurial experience before she joined the program in 2006, developed Tailwind, a device that helps improve arm function and range of motion for people with stroke or other brain injuries. Her firm, Encore Path, was recently ranked third on Fast Company’s list of women-owned technology companies to watch.

Dr. Kimberly Brown joined the program in 2007. After buying the contract she was working on based on advice she received at her ACTiVATE interview, she used skills she acquired to create Amethyst Technologies, which provides biotechnology services to government agencies. She grew the firm from just two employees to 20. She now targets $20 million in business within five years.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? I think you should check it out.

Donna Vincent Roa is a business communication rainmaker who designs and builds best-in-class communication portfolios. A leading strategist in science, environment, and sustainability communication and a water sector communication expert, she is Managing Partner & Chief Strategist for Vincent Roa Group LLC, a small, woman-owned firm that specializes in communication about the earth and its people A recent WWPR Woman of the Year finalist and a former Environment Commissioner for the City of Rockville, she is a current participant in George Washington University’s acclaimed ACTiVATE program. She blogs and can be reached at donna@vincentroagroup.com.


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