The programme follows a report that MIT missed out on the creation of 40 spinouts over two decades due to lack of engagement with women faculty.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced Future Founders Initiative, a programme that will aim to drive engagement with women faculty to increase commercialisation activities.
The initiative is a key recommendation of a report published by the Boston Biotech Working Group, set up by scientists at the institute two years ago to investigate gender inequities. Their findings were published in a special edition of MIT’s faculty newsletter.
The report was championed by Sangeeta Bhatia, the Wilson professor of engineering, and former president Susan Hockfield. They received a $175,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation to conduct their work.
They tracked 337 faculty members and found that only 9% of commercialisation activities involved a woman between 2000 and 2018, despite making up around 25% of researchers.
The report notes that, had women formed spinouts at the same rate as their male colleagues during that period, MIT would have generated approximately 40 additional companies.
Maria Zuber, vice-president for research and the EA Griswold professor of geophysics, wrote in her comment that the “missing companies” were “a gut punch”.
She added: “MIT prides itself on being immersed in an innovation ecosystem that helps translate our ideas into action. Yet we are clearly underachieving, because we are not advancing all of the most promising results from our labs.”
Among the ways in which Future Founders Initiative aims to tackle the disparity is a series of bootcamps for female faculty. The series began last autumn and it will coach participants through the process of launching a spinout, with a demo day dubbed Dolphin Tank that will offer an as-yet undetermined cash prize.
The initiative is also looking to increase the diversity on boards of directors of biotech startups to at least 25% women and has partnered the New England Venture Capital Association to oversee the progress.
A range of venture capital firms are expected to host women faculty through a fellowship programme. MIT will release participants from their teaching responsibilities and the firms will pay compensation – so far, Polaris Partners, Pillar VC and F-Prime Capital have signed up.