six strategies to advance equity and broaden participation in I&E


advancing equityOur new report, Advancing Equity: Dynamic Strategies for Authentic Engagement in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, presents approaches to foster equity and inclusion in science and technology (S&T) innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) across the field of higher education.

why focus on strategies and solutions to increase equity and inclusion in higher education?

In the United States, the majority of science and technology innovators and entrepreneurs identify as white men from economically privileged backgrounds. Although this cross-section includes plenty of talent and ideas, the systems that endorse their voices freeze out others due to racism, sexism, and classism. There is an urgent need to address these inequities, which inhibit innovation by people from traditionally underrepresented, underestimated, and under-resourced groups, especially those who identify as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous; women from all backgrounds; and individuals who identify as coming from low-income backgrounds.

“Fostering spaces that welcome a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches is essential for excellence in STEM I&E,” says Shaheen Mamawala, co-author of the report and senior development officer at VentureWell. The current composition of students in STEM programs is not a diverse representation of our society. “This is a result of entrenched systemic inequities, which deny some groups meaningful participation, silencing their ideas and voices while simultaneously accelerating and amplifying those of the dominant groups,” adds Mamawala.

Entrepreneurship centers and programs are actively seeking best practices and more intentional collaboration to increase equity and inclusion for students in S&T I&E on their campuses and across the higher education ecosystem.

solution: six action areas to broaden participation

Advancing Equity: Dynamic Strategies for Authentic Engagement in Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers six interrelated strategies to help entrepreneurship centers and programs broaden participation among early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs. Below is a snapshot of each.

1. conduct authentic outreach
why would I go if I’m not invited?
Authentic outreach helps create a personal connection that makes early-stage innovators feel validated, safe, and confident that they are invited and welcomed. Campus-based I&E centers and programs need to develop relationships with students from a wide range of identity groups, and partner with the leaders of organizations that work with them.

2. create inclusive spaces
will I feel safe sharing my voice and ideas?
All early-stage entrepreneurs seek physical and psychological spaces where they feel safe, validated, and can flourish. Program leaders can build support into events and trainings by avoiding themes and messages that cater to the dominant culture within S&T I&E, and create spaces where people are willing to be challenged about their ideas, assumptions, and positions.

3. build confidence
am I good enough?
When program leaders demonstrate empathy and create an atmosphere of psychological safety, they boost students’ self-confidence and minimize notions of the “imposter syndrome” and chronic self-doubt.

4. engage faculty as mentors
where can I find a mentor who understands my experiences?
Faculty mentors can provide both conceptual and tactical support, including expressions of confidence and validation, by sharing their experience and recommending information, resources, and support mechanisms to guide students in their entrepreneurship journeys. Students from under-represented groups emphasized the value of having a role model with a shared identity or background.

5. validate multiple pathways to success
who gets to define or measure my identity—or my idea?
Early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs thrive when their diverse motivations and personal measures of success are validated, so it’s important to acknowledge and validate their varying goals, metrics, and the language they use to describe what innovation looks like for their community.

6. develop a holistic organizational approach
are equity and inclusion in our DNA?
Advancing equity and inclusion requires ongoing commitment to diversity and intentionality in hiring and staff development, programming and physical spaces, and tracking and reporting on metrics.

Read the full Advancing Equity report for more about each of these best practices as well as suggestions for how to integrate them in your organization or your school.

VentureWell is dedicated to prioritizing the advancement of equity in its organizational practices, programs, and field. “This report demonstrates the great potential of entrepreneurship programs to enrich the lives of those who have the opportunity to participate—and serves as a call for action to invite and engage those who are most often left out of the conversation,” says study co-author Kristen Golden, also a senior development officer at VentureWell. “We encourage organizations to adapt and apply these best practices in their own work so that together we can begin to eliminate gaps and increase participation in STEM I&E of people marginalized by systemic racism, sexism, and classism.”

share your input

We are sharing this report in the spirit of partnership and learning. Please share your feedback, questions, and insights with us by reaching out to Kristen Golden, Shaheen Mamawala, and Eli Velasquez at


download the report


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