Programs Seek to Connect Women to Startup Funding, STEM Careers

It’s been an especially good month to be a female entrepreneur in Southeast Michigan.

Over the past four weeks, a new STEM initiative was announced; young women pursuing tech careers were awarded scholarships to help propel them toward a diploma; and tomorrow, a conference designed to encourage women-led startups with a social mission is being held in Detroit. Get a closer look at the news below.

—Tomorrow, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Michigan Women’s Foundation will launch EmpowerHER, a new initiative meant to spur and support women who want to start businesses that also help make a positive impact on their communities. The new program will be rolled out during an event at the University of Detroit Mercy.

The daylong summit will offer information on educational opportunities, technical support, and financial backing, and includes breakout sessions with successful social entrepreneurs sharing what they’ve learned. (Even though the event is meant to nudge women with great startup ideas into action, men are also welcome to participate.)

Attendees will have the opportunity to compete for a share of $50,000 in startup funding. A panel will choose eight to 10 finalists to be paired with mentors, who will help the entrepreneurs flesh out business plans and refine elevator pitches. Entrepreneurs will then have until Sept. 30 to submit a two-page business proposal and financial overview for the panel’s consideration.

Register to attend tomorrow’s event here.

The Michigan Council of Women in Technology Foundation last week awarded 11 scholarships to college women pursuing degrees in innovative fields such as machine learning, bioinformatics, and artificial intelligence. Scholarship donors this year included Continental, Consumers Energy, Credit Acceptance, Dell, Oracle, and NiTS Solutions.

Over the past 12 years, the MCWT has awarded more than $1 million to 135 female scholars. Carey Pachla, president of the MCWT Foundation, said in a statement that the purpose of the scholarship program is to help keep Michigan’s tech talent pipeline full.

“It’s an example of our mission in action—inspiring and growing women in technology—and the power of bringing together businesses and academic leaders to promote the pursuit of meaningful and rewarding technology careers,” she added.

—In late May, Inforum announced its new inSTEM initiative with an event that included a keynote speech from astronaut Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space. The initiative seeks to increase the number of girls and women with the skills necessary to go after STEM careers by providing female role models and mentors for existing K-12 STEM programs.

Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum, a professional development organization for women, said the program represents the first time Inforum has gotten directly involved in promoting women in STEM. Given the organization’s network of more than 2,000 women business leaders—the majority of whom work in a STEM field, Barclay said—a mentorship component seemed like a natural fit.

“The STEM gap is a top concern for employers, and that’s one of the key drivers of inSTEM,” Barclay said in a phone interview. “When you look at the data, the STEM gap is a gender gap. If we can be a little more successful at moving the needle on gender, it will have a big impact.”

STEM jobs are projected to increase by 17 percent by 2024, she said. Fifty-five to sixty percent of all college graduates are women, yet only 14 percent of engineers are women, and only 25 percent of those working in IT are women. Inforum sees an opportunity in this stark disparity.

“There are a lot of great programs in the K-12 space designed to encourage women at an early age so they can see the possibilities,” Barclay said. “Inforum wants to develop a pipeline of women already qualified for STEM jobs. It’s a simple idea, but there’s a surprising need for it.”

Barclay said Inforum’s database of women tech professionals will serve as role models, which research has shown can make a “huge difference” when it comes to recruiting women into STEM careers. “The girls and women want to see themselves out there in the business world,” she added.

So far, Inforum’s partners on inSTEM include the Michigan Science Center, the Michigan STEM Partnership, Junior Achievement, and Detroit, Pontiac, and Flint public schools, with more expected in the future.

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