Our new publication Charting a Path Forward: Reflections on Initial Steps Toward Advancing Equity in Innovation & Entrepreneurship offers key lessons and recommendations borne from our past two years of tests, trials, failures, and successes in striving to advance equity and inclusion within our organization and in the broader innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) ecosystem. It is both a reflection on our journey thus far and an invitation to join us in this crucial work; as VentureWell President Phil Weilerstein recently noted, achieving true equity will require “consistent, continual, and rigorous attention and effort.”
This publication is a reflection on our ongoing journey identifying, articulating, addressing, and assessing the systemic gaps in equity and inclusion across our work. It focuses on the challenges we faced, the lessons we learned, and ongoing opportunities to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in three areas of VentureWell work:
- programmatic activities within our E-Team program, which provides support for teams of early-stage, US-based student innovators through grants, training, coaching, and networking;
- organizational culture and practices, including our staff-driven engagement and learning activities, short- and longer-term organizational commitments, and enhancements to internal policies and practices; and
- field-building, including defining our role as a “convener-participant” in this work and seeking frequent feedback from and collaboration with experts in the field who bring equity work to life in many different contexts and communities.
“This publication is an important step towards making meaning of our journey to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said author Shaheen Mamawala, Director of Planning & Partnerships at VentureWell. “It’s both exciting and humbling to reflect on what we’ve accomplished so far, where we’ve struggled, and how much further we have to go to dismantle the equity barriers that pervade the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape. We hope this piece is a jumping off point for deeper learning, dialogue, and collaboration.”
background of our advancing equity work
For the past 25 years, we’ve been working to support early-stage student innovators as they developed and launched pioneering ideas with scalable impact. In early 2019, we embarked on a journey to build more equitable and inclusive pathways in I&E in science and technology (S&T). We investigated the entrenched, inequitable systems across the I&E ecosystem that block the progress of individuals from underrepresented, underestimated, and underresourced groups, and examined how these challenges were compounded by the existential threats of climate change, a global pandemic, and a national reckoning in the face of centuries of systemic racism. We have intentionally dedicated capacity to this work, have dug deep into our organizational norms and ways of being, and have done a whole lot of listening.
With the support of The Lemelson Foundation, our long-term partner in cultivating and supporting student inventors in higher education, we set forth to increase our ability to implement more equitable and inclusive program opportunities, synthesizing and sharing strategies and solutions to advance equity within the field of higher education I&E, and identifying strengths, gaps, and opportunities for improvement within our organizational culture.
“The Lemelson Foundation is proud to support VentureWell in their journey to build more equitable and inclusive pathways for innovation-driven student entrepreneurs,” notes Cindy Cooper, Program Officer at The Lemelson Foundation. “Cultivating a more diverse pool of inventors and innovators and giving them the tools and support they need to succeed is critical to our collective socio-economic future. And VentureWell’s commitment to a more comprehensive approach to leveling the playing field will fuel changes that lead to better solutions, a stronger economy, and a more equitable society.”
share your input
This publication is not the end of our work to advance equity—rather, we intend it to be a launching point and an invitation into a more fundamentally inclusive future. One of the most important principles to come out of our work advancing equity over the past two years is “committing to imperfection”—to recognize that we have both accomplished things and still have much work to do.
Whether you are beginning, evolving, expanding, or scaling your efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, we look forward to your feedback, your questions, and your partnership! Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org—we’re excited to connect and learn alongside you.
Read more about our advancing equity work and see how you can get involved.