Women in STEM: forging the future of technology commercialization
Emerald Scofield, Dr Ashwath Sundaresan, Lois Gregory
The funding available for technology commercialisation in NZ has dramatically improved over the past 5 years. In 2021, early-stage investors provided $59.9m to start-ups, a ~78% increase since 2020. Despite this progress, although we are seeing a considerable move towards more diversity within our teams, there is still a considerable skew towards this funding going to start-ups being male-founded and male-led. A concerted effort is being made by the industry to stimulate a move towards bringing more women into their ventures – but we are still a long way away from equal representation. This needs to change.
While female postgraduate participation in STEM subjects is slowly increasing, we are yet to see this translate into a greater number of female academics pursing and participating in commercialization of technology. Why do female academics dropout of the commercialization pipeline? Why do female academic entrepreneurs miss out opportunities that their male counterparts enjoy?
Biases are a natural phenomenon, and the venture capital sector is no different. Even armed with the intention of being completely fair, our brains can have a tough time being impartial. Unconscious gender bias in the VC world means fewer female entrepreneurial endeavours are considered recipients of funding. This not only deters many female academics from pursuing commercialization opportunities, it can lead to major disparities in the technology sector and beyond. A classic example is VC’s inclination to back “proven” academics or entrepreneurs who have already been involved in a successful venture. These people know what it takes to turn their research into successful ventures. So, what is the problem? Well, the “proven ” are predominantly male and by backing proven winners, VCs only perpetuate the problem.
Diversity of thought is critical as it ensures new ways to approach and solve problems and spur innovation. Not only that, it is proven to result in better commercial outcomes. Acknowledging inherent biases and providing a pathway for women to enter commercialisation endeavours is critical to unlock the power of diversity of thought.
How VCs can do better
VC’s are definitely making a concerted effort to increase gender equality but we need to do more to make sure females don’t fall through the gaps. Very simply, VCs need to consciously keep an eye out for females who are excelling in their fields, who may want to move into entrepreneurship, and we need to ensure we have processes in place to empower these women to become future leaders in the industry. They may have not done it before, but with our support, we can be shaping the next generation of founders and leaders. This will in turn encourage more women to take the next steps in their own commercialization journeys, as they can already see themselves represented in the field.
At Pacific Channel, we see it as our responsibility to provide more accessibility to opportunity and support for women-led ventures and empower these women for success in their entrepreneurial endeavours. The Pacific Channel whānau are determined to help drive forward this fight for equality. Keep your eye out for the exciting new opportunities we will be launching soon!