WEST Honors Women Leaders in Tech and Life Sciences to Encourage Others in the Fields

Xconomy Boston — 

Here’s the latest in a string of events this month celebrating entrepreneurship (June is Innovation Month in New England). On Wednesday, Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (WEST for short), a non-profit focused on connecting and assisting women in roles at tech and life sciences companies, held its third Leadership Awards celebration. It spotlighted women whom WEST views as leading innovation with their own ventures or within larger organizations.

WEST says it has a focus on helping mid-career women advance in the fields of science and technology, through events and education, but several event attendees told me that the organizations also plays a strong part in encouraging younger women to enter the industries.

“It helps people network for their own career, but it also creates more role models,” said Mara Aspinall, a WEST award winner and the president and CEO of On-Q-ity, a Waltham, MA-based diagnostics company.

The four award recipients each shared entrepreneurial tips with the audience. Below I’ve rounded up some background on each of the winners, their advice and lessons learned, and some takeaways I had from conversations with the honorees I was able to chat with before their presentations.

—“Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot accomplish,” Aspinall said to the audience. She said a guidance counselor told her when she was younger that she couldn’t become a doctor because she was a girl. Aspinall didn’t go on to get her M.D., but she did end up as president of Genzyme Genetics before leading On-Q-ity. Before the official awards presentation, she told me that she thinks Boston is a friendly environment for female entrepreneurs in technology. “It’s not about promoting women per se, it just hasn’t put any additional barriers on them,” she said.

—Next up was Katrine Bosley, the CEO of Avila Therapeutics, a Waltham-based drug developer. Her advice to that audience was to be unafraid of failure. “In entrepreneurship, it’s all about risks,” she said. The outlook makes sense, given Avila’s mission. In an Xconomy feature on the company in February, Bosley told Luke that Avila, whose drugs are designed to form covalent bonds with their targets on cells, is out to beat biotech giant Vertex Pharmaceuticals at its game of treating hepatitis C.

Bosley will also be presenting on a panel about the return of biotech platforms at the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship next week, so be sure to register for the event.

—Another award winner was Nancy Briefs, president and CEO of Merrimack, NH-based Elemè Medical, a company that’s making devices for non-invasive body shaping and battling cellulite. She talked about the lessons learned in going lean. Elemé’s product, which serves an aesthetic purpose, hit market just before Wall Street’s big banks fell in 2008, leading the economy into a tailspin. She said the company halved its workforce, and had to “get lean, mean, and believe there’s no money to be seen.” Nearly two years later, they’re still around and in the market.

—Sue Welch, founder and CEO of Gloucester, MA-based TradeStone Software, shared her insight on the value of sticking with an idea once it’s proven successful. TradeStone makes Web-based sourcing and lifecycle management software for businesses, an area that Welch touched on with her two previous companies. Her second company, a maker of Windows-based sourcing software, sold for more than $100 million. Earlier in the evening, she told me that she was encouraged by the way WEST brings women in the field together.

But Welch is all about busting stereotypes. “We wanted to dress like Sex and the City so people know technology isn’t about pocket protectors for women,” she said of how her team suited up for the WEST awards event.

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