What was the objective in applying for this grant from the SBA?
Molk: This award will help us put more resources toward increasing diversity in entrepreneurship and in the innovation community more broadly. It’s meant for tech accelerators, which, in the broad definition, include anybody who is pushing companies out, or putting new technologies into the pipeline. At CU Innovations, we touch med-tech companies of all stages; from conception, spinning out and getting funding, to clinical validation. This makes us well-positioned to increase the representation of women and people from BIPOC communities all across the innovation spectrum.
Muller: This award is meant to address the national disparity we see in terms of women and BIPOC scientists translating their research into products that benefit patients. There is a gender and diversity gap in terms of patenting, commercialization, raising investment capital and women-led companies. The work that Doreen did (spearheading the SBA grant application) is really important, not just for CU Anschutz and Colorado, but it’s really meant to address a national issue, too, that we’re all trying to address in academia and innovation. Namely promoting diversity at all levels in the translation and commercialization of products that will transform healthcare.
This award demonstrates the campus’s commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion across all areas of research, translation and commercialization. There is new research published in Science demonstrating that female inventors are more likely to come up with biomedical ideas and products that focus on the needs of women. Since we do not see a lot of women in the commercialization process, society may be missing out on medications, devices and technologies that could benefit women’s health. Moreover, having more diversity in all aspects of research and product development will help address the disparities we see in clinical research. Addressing issues of diversity will improve health equity. So, this grant is not only important for the campus and the state of Colorado, but for the patients worldwide who we can impact due to more inclusive representation in the innovation process.
It’s a well-known fact in academia, for example, that students respond better to faculty members who mirror their own sense of identity. Is it a similar situation in the commercial marketplace – that consumers are looking for products developed by companies that reflect their personal identity and values?
Molk: It definitely helps to encourage women and other people from BIPOC communities to participate in innovation when they see people who look like themselves participating as well. On our own campus, researchers who identify as women are reporting their innovations to our office at half the rate as their male-identifying counterparts. That means that innovations from women are likely being underreported to the Innovations office, and it represents a number of missed opportunities for our female researchers to transform healthcare for the better through innovation. We hope to fix the disparity using the resources provided under this award.
Increasing diversity is also just a good business decision. Diverse teams are just more successful. It’s been shown through a number of studies that when executive teams are diverse, they make better decisions and they’re more profitable. So, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s a wise decision to encourage diversity in your teams. And that’s the primary goal behind this: you want to have a good subset of people representing all different groups making important decisions. That’s another goal of our work under the award.
Muller: In 2020, only 2.4% of venture capital went to women-led companies and represent only 13% of startup CEOs. That’s an abysmal statistic given the fact that the research shows that when you have diverse teams, these companies are more successful. Yet, when you think about healthcare, women make up 51% of the population, are the primary healthcare decision makers in their families, spend 27% more on healthcare per capita than their male peers, and yet the majority feel misunderstood by the healthcare market. Increasing the number of women in leadership positions across the healthcare spectrum will help drive future innovation and make healthcare better for everyone.
Muller: The Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule, which was approved by the SEC on Aug. 6, 2021, is a disclosure standard designed to encourage a minimum board diversity for all Nasdaq-listed companies because of the research that Doreen cited. And so, how are we going to get women promoted to these boards when we don’t have women leading companies? Again, it really highlights one of the big societal issues we’ve been facing in innovation and entrepreneurship. We intend for the work that Doreen is doing under the SBA to be a model for the country, for how you promote diversity at all levels in innovation and entrepreneurship at academic medical centers.
Molk: When people are plugged into the community, they tend to return – often in different roles. So maybe they started as an inventor, then they might become a board member the next time around, or maybe a scientific adviser or a co-founder. It’s about getting people plugged in. Through targeted programming and additional educational opportunities, we aim to demystify innovation and to get our women and BIPOC researchers plugged into the innovation community. Then we might see them in other roles and other capacities. This is really important.