On the first day of Women’s History Month, CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, PhD, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, launched a new “Women in Enterprising Science” (WIES) program intended to enhance gender equity in bio-entrepreneurship. The HS Chau WIES program is launched through the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) with philanthropic support from the foundation of Solina Chau Hoi Shuen, co-founder of Horizons Ventures in Hong Kong. The program will support aspiring founders with a commitment to addressing gender equity to help spur change across the industry. Specifically, it offers scientific entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive up to $1 million of funding to create and grow new ventures around promising genomic and emerging biotechnologies.

Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna, PhD, University of California, Berkeley

“The Women in Enterprising Science Program is a natural extension of the IGI mission to develop world-class genome-engineering innovations into solutions that benefit all of humanity,” said Doudna. “I’ve found being an entrepreneur in the biotech world incredibly exciting and rewarding. But too few women have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, even though a lot of the needed innovation today is coming from women researchers. If women have the dream of founding a company based on their research, the barriers that stand in their way need to be removed.”

Despite the rising numbers of women majoring in STEM fields across the United States and efforts to increase diversity in STEM programs, biotechnology as an industry has a wide gender imbalance. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that female founders in biotechnology only received 2.3% of venture capital funding in 2020.

The WIES program, located on the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) campus, will support Fellows whose work specifically aligns with the mission of the IGI and promotes gender equity in biotech entrepreneurship. The IGI is focused on bridging revolutionary genome-editing and biotechnology tool development to affordable and accessible solutions in human health, climate, and agriculture. The IGI is steering toward a world where genome-editing technology is routinely applied to treat genetic disease, enable sustainable agriculture, and help achieve a carbon-neutral economy.

The program is now accepting proposals from aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to translate genomics research into impactful solutions to real-world challenges and advance the representation of women founders in biotechnology. The selection committee for the program will be led by Doudna, IGI executive director Brad Ringeisen, and a group of UC Berkeley professors.

The program will be split into two phases. During Phase I, up to four WIES Fellows will be selected and provided with support to conduct foundational research for the early stages of their entrepreneurial ideas. This support will include up to $150,000 for salary, benefits, supplies, and educational programming. Fellows will either be appointed as postdocs or retain their existing UC Berkeley faculty affiliation. After a period of one year, up to two Fellows from Phase I will be selected to enter Phase II as WIES Entrepreneurs and may receive up to $1 million dollars in seed funding directly from the HS Chau Foundation, while continuing to have access to the IGI’s entrepreneurial community for 1.5 more years. A total of four cohorts of Fellows will be supported by the program over the coming years, with the individuals in the first cohort beginning their fellowships in September 2022.

Overall, the program will provide up to 2.5 years of financial, scientific, and educational support to the program participants. Fellows will have opportunities to engage in formal and informal collaborations, dedicated lab space for Phase I, individual mentoring, and access to an active and engaged scientific advisory board, including members from the IGI’s network of diverse entrepreneurs.

“The IGI is uniquely suited to identify and support female scientists on the rise who are not only spearheading cutting-edge research in the lab, but also showing high potential for success as company founders,” said Ringeisen. “With our pioneering team and growing and diverse community of scholars and women entrepreneurs, the time is now for us to scale up our efforts to empower this next generation of individuals and help them realize the full potential and real-world impact of their innovations.”

Applications received by April 1, 2022, will receive priority for consideration, but will be accepted until April 30, 2022. Selected WIES Program Fellows will be announced by June 1, 2022. To learn more about the program and submit an application, visit enterprisingscience.org.

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