In Salute and Celebration of Women Social Entrepreneurs

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By Shankar Sastry

At the Blum Center, women using their entrepreneurial and discipline-specific talents to start innovative projects and organizations has been a goal since our founding. The difference today compared to 13 years ago is that there are more networks and investment opportunities for female founders. Yet barriers still exist (to be broken).

At the October 1 CITRIS Women in Tech Initiative “Inclusion by Design: Practical Tips for Improving STEM Equality,” the Blum Center’s Phillip Denny was part of a panel discussing ways to increase the participation and success of women and under-represented people in entrepreneurship.

“Networks and mentors are extremely important for female innovators, as they are for everyone,” said Denny who directs the Big Ideas Contest.

Recently, Denny documented in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that in Big Ideas there is a correlation between female participants’ success and the number of female judges in the pool. The researchers also found that women mentors, who advise on project plans, offer much needed perspectives and networks and have a better understanding of some of the types of products and services that women are proposing.

In this month’s newsletter, we are featuring several women entrepreneurs who have come through Blum Hall.

Maria Artundauga, 2019 winner of the Big Ideas Contest, discusses how her personal and professional experiences led her to found Respira Labs, a Skydeck startup, and how she navigates male-dominated spaces as a woman of color and an immigrant.

Also in this month’s newsletter is an interview with Jill Finlayson, Cal graduate, longtime Big Ideas Contest mentor, and director of Women in Technology Initiative at CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) at UC Berkeley, where she supports research and initiatives to promote the equitable participation of women in the tech industry.

Also featured is the work of Vicentia Gyau, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar and Global Poverty & Practice alumna, who co-founded the nonprofit Education Redefined for All to  improve public education and workforce development in Ghana.

In addition, October was another tremendous month for Blum Center Education Director Alice Agogino and her startup Squishy Robotics, which makes shape-shifting robots for first responders in disaster situations. The Professor of Mechanical Engineering was named one of the 30 women in robotics by Robohub, and her invention won the Grand Winner Award at 2019 Silicon Valley TechPlanter competition in the global accelerator category.

Please join me in the celebration of these and other women founders and social entrepreneurs at the Blum Center, at UC Berkeley, and beyond.

And please take a look at Jason Liu’s article on the Development Engineering course Design, Evaluate and Scale Technologies (DevEng200), which is being taken by 44 UC Berkeley STEM and social science students, more than half of whom hail from outside the U.S.  

Shankar Sastry is Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies and NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

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