InnovateHER: Helping Women Entrepreneurs

November 27, 2017
Source: Trusst Lingerie

written by: alicen ricard

Being a business owner can be difficult. It’s not easy to get your feet off the ground without some help, but the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)'s Office of Women’s Business Ownership has a contest called the InnovateHER Challenge.  This challenge allows for entrepreneurs to show off their products and services in the hopes of being noticed. Because there are so few opportunities for women to fund their innovation, InnovateHER is a much needed competition that fosters creativity and collaboration between women.

There have been many thinkpieces written around the topic of design that includes the input of women. In her piece "The World is Designed for Men" on, Kat Ely (designer and cofounder of Clear Design Lab in Boston) shows data of her own research. She researched 27 design and engineering consulting teams with public information about their teams and found out of 743 people, only 188 were women and 555 were men. It is even rarer to be a woman in a design or engineering role at a consultancy - she found that only 110 were women in design or engineering (including User Experience design and User Interface design). 18 women were industrial designers and 16 women were mechanical engineers - that's only 34 women across 27 companies in roles that are focused on physical product design.

Further, researchers have found that some products are actually more dangerous for women to use. Researchers published a study in the American Journal of Public Health called "Vulnerability of Female Drivers Involved in Motor Vehicle Crashes: An Analysis of US Population at Risk." Accidents happen to 47% more women wearing seatbelts than men, because they are designed using male crash-test dummies. Even medicine is less safe for women. Viviana Simone, the Director of Scientific Programs at the Society for Women's Health Research in Washington, DC, writes in Science, "Most biomedical and clinical research has been based on the assumption that the male can serve as representative of the species. This has been in spite of increasing awareness … [that] women and men differ in their susceptibility to and risk for many medical conditions, and they respond differently to drugs and other interventions. The close of the previous decade saw 8 out of 10 prescription drugs withdrawn from the U.S. market because they cause statistically greater health risks for women."

To get these inventions, someone needs to invent them with women in mind. That's why it's so important for women to get their inventions noticed. Competitions like InnovateHER are great because not only do they help with the money to fund inventions and small businesses, they give the publicity needed for these women to get their feet off the ground.

In the 2017 InnovateHER Challenge they had 120 local competitions and the business plans that won were sent to the SBA. There they had further local competitions, including a pitch competition. From there semi-finalists were chosen and sent to the SBA, where they picked ten finalists. The ten finalists are sent to Washington DC to compete in a live pitch competition. First place is $40,000; second is $20,000; and third is $10,000. 

Source: Flat Out of Heels

The prizes in 2015 were lower than they are now ($15,000; $10,000; and $5,000), but there was no less talent. First place went to Bethany Edwards, second to Lisa Crites, and third to Sophia Berman. Edwards designed an eco-friendly pregnancy test at LIA Diagnostics. Crites created The Shower Shirt, which prevents water from getting into chest surgery drain sites. Berman, creator of Trusst Lingerie, designed attractive lingerie for bigger busted women. 

Source: CapeAble

The winners from 2016 were Elizabeth CavenDawn Dickson, and Dr. Agnes Scoville. Caven, who won first place, created a website for digital sewing patterns called UpCraftClub. Dickson was the recipient of second place for Flat Out of Heels, portable flats the roll up for heel wearers. Third place went to Dr. Scoville for Pacidose, which is a device to give children medicine.

SnugLit Source: TheraB Medical

The winners for 2017 haven't been announced yet but the ten finalists have been. This year's finalists are:

  1. Afreen Allam: started SiNON Therapeutics to improve the lives of women who suffer from neurological diseases
  2. Alexa JonesTheraB Medical and their product SnugLit, which is a solution to infant jaundice
  3. Crystal HarrisBrauxiliary and their pumping band that turns bras into a hands-free pumping bra
  4. Marna Pacheco and Susan Hickok: created CapeAble Sensory Products which makes weighted blankets and wearables
  5. Bianca Cerqueira and Lauren Cornell:  started NovoThelium to help women regenerate a nipple out of their own cells after mastectomies 
  6. Zayira Jordan: created GuardDV which helps enforce court-issued restraining orders for domestic violence survivors 
  7. Jenna Ryan: invented Uquora which helps to prevent urinary tract infections
  8. Jamelah Tucker: created EasyPeasie which helps families create simple and nutritious meals
  9. Jessica Dehn: with her drop-in daycare, Dino Drop-In
  10. Jamie Clark: started The Willie Wags which is a subscription service to help women entrepreneurs 

These women are using problem solving and innovation, key engineering skills, to create solutions for women. Engineering is actually very collaborative. More women should be encouraged to work together and collaborate over new innovations. Since women control 51% of wealth and have major purchasing power, fostering women's innovation in any way is important.

Make sure to check out the InnovateHER website to see the winners when they are announced. Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram if there is a Canadian equivalent to this competition.