"It's challenging out there": Gender, Innovation, and Ecosystems

Things got WEiRED on June 15th and 16th. At the invitation of the WEiRED (Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development) research group, over 50 women representing an international consortium of researchers, government and industry representatives, start-up founders, and students met at Communitech to share the latest research on and discussion new areas of research that will advance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. The research was supported by a SSHRC Connections grant entitled “From Exception to Rule: Advancing the Role of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Regional Innovation Ecosystems”, as well as Wilfrid Laurier, AGE-WELL, the Lazaridis School, and Communitech.

The goal of the project was to understand how women entrepreneurs impact and are impacted by regional innovation ecosystems.

  Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Day one started with an inspiring welcome by the incoming president and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy. The morning theme “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: An international perspective” included international researchers to set the tone and spur discussion for a lively group activity (pictured below).

  Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

  Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Building on the morning’s learnings, the afternoon theme, “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: A regional perspective” highlighted the importance of ecosystems for collaboration and growth in local clusters. Day one of the symposium ended with an opportunity for an exercise that allowed the group to come to consensus on which issues were most important.

After lively discussions over dinner with new friends, day two opened with an address from Catherine Fife, Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. The theme for Day 2, “Women and Entrepreneurship from a sectoral perspective: health and agetech” generated some fervent discussion. Most participants were in agreement around the need for innovation in the health and aging sectors. They hear from experts in aging, practitioners running women’s entrepreneurship programs in incubators, and professional schools that encourage women and workers in gendered professions such as nursing.

  Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

  Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

The organizing team is working on next steps, including future collaborations on grants and partnerships. DRiVE is grateful for all the support from partners as well as the student volunteers who worked to pull this amazing event together.

WEiRED

Check out #weiredproject #weired2017 #kwinnovation on Twitter for participants’ perspectives throughout the symposium.

 

 

And now for something really WEiRED!

Gender equality has been an issue for western governments as far back as the 70’s (despite laudable activism prior to that in many regions). Now, if it was as simple as passing a bill, you’d expect to see trampled barriers across the traditionally gendered disciplines and professions.

But we don’t. Statistics Canada’s 2011 report “Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university” points out that the majority of university graduates are women. Yet despite years of acknowledging the wasted opportunity that this inequality represents, amongst graduates 25-34 only 23% of students graduating from engineering are women, and 30% from math and computer science. So what, you say? Women are rocking it in the arts and social sciences. Here’s the rub. The median wages of engineering and computer science graduates exceed those of others. Catalyst reports that women in these fields are more likely than their male colleagues to leave the industry within a year if they do get the job. And this gender gap follows women right to the top - in 2013 Credit Suisse reported that 41% of technology companies had NO women directors.

You have to believe that those women who DO persevere would be sought after representatives of where the industry is going. Not so fast. If you relied on tech industry panels as a place where women might pop up, think again. They are predominantly…well, male. Deloitte generously refers to this and other practices as unconscious bias, others as outright sexism. Either way it’s time to act. Diverse teams perform better. Period.

On June 14th and 15th a number of DRiVE researchers and colleagues, in partnership with the Fierce Founders group at Communitech, are bringing international experts on women and entrepreneurship/innovation to Kitchener/Waterloo, along with invited stakeholders from government, research, industry, civic groups and the health and agetech sector, to discuss women innovators and entrepreneurs, and the barriers and enablers of success that they experience within their local regions. Our second day will be devoted to a deep dive into the health and agetech sector where the likelihood that our systems will survive the onslaught of a rapidly aging and ailing population without mobilizing ALL the human capital in them, is slim.

Dr. Barb Orser (Canada), author of Feminine Capital, Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs, Dr. Tatiana Manolova (US), author of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Growth of Women’s Entrepreneurship, Susan Marlow (UK), will help lead our thought process, along with members of the WEiRED research team (Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development) who are organizing the symposium, and a crowd of key stakeholders. Our goal is to build a research consortium, in partnership with other invited partners, that will help provide international evidence of programs that work and those that don’t to improve gender parity in the pipeline that produces then commercializes disruptive innovations.

For more information on this symposium please contact Dr. Josephine McMurray at jmcmurray@wlu.ca

EngAGEtechKW: A workshop on understanding older adults' experiences of technology adoption in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region

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On Wednesday November 9th 2016, two groups of researchers from AGE-WELL partnered with Communitech, to host a workshop that brought together older adults, their caregivers, and other stakeholders working in this area, with those who are developing innovations for health and aging. 

This event took place at the Tannery at Communitech, which for those of you who don`t know about Communitech, check out their website- they are an industry-led innovation centre that supports, fosters and celebrates a community of about 1,000 tech companies.

As an HQP in WP7 with a passion for engaging older adults in health and aging innovation I was excited to partner with WP1 to bring their hands-on and interactive workshop to the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) region to provide an opportunity for older adults to interact closely with technologies currently in development, providing developers with valuable feedback on its usability and older adults an opportunity to have their say.

From WP7, researchers and students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, and from WP 1, representatives from Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Sciences partnered to achieve the following 6 workshop objectives:

1) Understand how older adults make decisions regarding technology acquisition and use;

2) Identify the obstacles or barriers to adoption of technologies by older people;

3) Work collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders;

4) Develop an understanding of Waterloo Wellington region’s innovation ecosystem from the perspective of a variety of stakeholders, and how it fosters the development of technologies that support health and aging;

5) Contribute to the creation of a model to guide active collaboration with older adults and their caregivers in regional innovation ecosystems; and

6) Provide an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to comment on policy and regulatory issues relevant to new technologies and innovation to support health and aging.

We were delighted by the overwhelming community response to bring older adults, caregivers, researchers, decision- makers, folks working in the health and aging sectors, and the tech community together! As we in the AW network know, a key part of the AGE-WELL mission is to involve those folks who we are working to innovate for. The projects coming together for this workshop are great examples of this engagement.

In WP 7, PRITECH aims to understand the regulatory and policy environment for aging technologies and innovation by collaborating with policy makers and those working in industry to better understand this environment. In the DRiVE project we are working to understand the regional environment or ecosystem that is needed to support the innovation process by collaborating with the stakeholders who are important in these communities.

In WP 1 they are working to understand the role of older adults in technology design, development, and commercialization by involving older adults in their work.

As much as this workshop was a research activity, we were also able to have some fun! During the lunch hour, our Communitech partners arranged a tour and put together a selfie booth- complete with silly hats and a giant plush giraffe- for participants to enjoy.

Preliminary review of the evaluations have been positive, with one participant commenting:

“I was intimidated before I arrived given that I don't consider myself a techie.  However, I didn't even think of that especially when I started listening to others with the products they tried and just trying "gadgets".  I confess to being a gadget junkie - can't afford to buy a lot of them but love getting to learn to use them.  …  I look forward to more of these types of sessions and am spreading the word among my friends and acquaintances.” (Older adult workshop participant).

As we wrapped up the day, a participant asked “how can we keep in touch and maintain the connections we have made today” … to me, this was the best feedback we could have asked for. My vision is for older adults and their caregivers to be meaningfully engaged in innovation ecosystems for health and aging. There is so much potential in the KW region to open the door to the possibilities and market development that comes from a growing segment of people over the age of 65 who are willing and eager to adopt new technologies that will help them live better lives more independently. We see this event as beginning a relationship between stakeholders in the KW region and are excited to keep the momentum going as the ecosystem develops!

As a start to keeping the connections made between folks, we have created a community space on our website for folks to post pictures, comments, links, etc. related to the workshop and follow up opportunities. Please visit this space here to help keep the momentum going:

https://www.drive-health-ecosystems.com/community-health-innovation-ecosystems/

A final note of thanks to the researchers, students, and of course participant support from both within the AW WPs involved and beyond.