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ASU receives grant to advance women's entrepreneurship efforts

February 24, 2015

Arizona State University has received a $175,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to advance its commitment to boosting the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Phoenix metropolitan area supporting women entrepreneurs here and beyond.

As part of the initiative, ASU is working with partner Think Global Institute to provide an intensive training curriculum and an accelerator program for a cohort of women entrepreneurs. The grant will also fund weekly workshops for community members every Tuesday, April 7 through May 7, with a focus on supporting women-owned businesses.

As a result of careful evaluation of these two efforts, ASU hopes to collaborate with other higher education institutions and with area accelerators and incubators in partnerships to develop best practices for advancing women-owned businesses.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and councilmember Daniel Valenzuela, along with JPMorgan Chase’s regional banking manager Noreen Bishop, presented the grant to Mitzi Montoya, vice president and university dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at ASU, during the Startup Week Phoenix kick-off event on Feb. 23.

“Women are severely underrepresented in the startup scene, and this grant is one step of many that will help us change that,” said Montoya during the kick-off. “Only one and three percent of high-tech and technology firms, respectively, were founded by women between 2004-2007. We need more women entrepreneurs to reach our full potential as innovators and job creators.”

The grant announcement initiated ASU Launch Day Downtown, an effort to foster a wider conversation regarding entrepreneurship and innovation within the university and local community. The Launch Day activities, held at the First Amendment Forum at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, included Open Pitch – a competition at which over 20 ASU student-led ventures pitched ideas.

Ventures ranged from a company that is building a machine that uses recycled plastic as raw material for 3-D printing to a startup that hopes to make student art more accessible to buyers. In all, over 1,000 students on the Downtown campus were introduced to ASU’s entrepreneurship programs during Launch Day.

The Open Pitch competition preceded a panel discussion on the role of women in entrepreneurship in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The discussion, moderated by Phoenix Business Journal technology and innovation reporter Hayley Ringle, featured Audrey Iffert-Saleem, executive director of entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives at ASU; Trish Gulbranson, chief executive officer of Derma Health; Retha Hill, executive director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Amy Scerra, co-founder of Think Global Institute, a Denver-based women entrepreneurship leadership institute.

Montoya, in her keynote for the conversation, addressed the need for community partners to band together to help entrepreneurs make their ideas happen.

“Universities are talent magnets, attracting students from all walks of life from across the world,” said Montoya. “We serve as a pipeline, connecting entrepreneurial students to outside networks to help them succeed.”

The panel touched on a variety of issues facing women entrepreneurs, including different leadership styles for different women; building networks and relationships; seeking the right mentors; the best time to start a business during one’s career; the role of men in advancing the conversation regarding women entrepreneurs; and the critical need for community organizations to work together to provide women business owners a better platform to showcase what they’re doing.

“I regularly meet women business leaders who’d make great mentors but hesitate to take on that role because they feel unqualified or [that they] need to reach perfection before they guide others,” said Iffert-Saleem, who challenged both women and men in the audience to join the ASU Mentor Network.

Hill, Gulbranson and Iffert-Saleem stressed the importance of understanding finances and conducting market and competitor analysis for startup owners, and understanding their target industry to mitigate risks.

“Lean in, lean out, I don’t care what you do,” said Scerra to women entrepreneurs. “Just be yourself.”

Find out more about ASU’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation programs at Register for the women’s entrepreneurship workshop series here.

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