A message from Phil Weilerstein, CEO and
President of VentureWell.
As the summer draws to a close and the new academic year begins, I hope this finds you safe and well in these unprecedented and deeply challenging times. As has been written widely, the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health crisis are surfacing and compounding inequities that are the result of years of systemic racism. The impacts of the pandemic also are contributing to an acute financial crisis in higher education in America. Any one of these challenges would be monumental to overcome on its own; and yet we face all three in this singular and uncharted academic year ahead.
we’re in this together
Mapping a way forward in this environment is a daunting task, especially when we know we don’t have all the answers. As with any task that is new and challenging, the learning and insight that come from the connection with others and the free exchange of ideas and best practices can help produce innovative approaches and surmount even seemingly intractable challenges. I write to offer our support in making those connections and sharing ideas, and ultimately to help you navigate through these crises.
helping you create an equitable ecosystem
As I wrote in June, racial equity is core to the mission of VentureWell, and we are committed to helping increase access for emerging science and technology innovators to bring forth their ideas to address the world’s greatest problems. Yet, like you, we know we will not be successful if we do not remove the barriers historically marginalized groups have faced in science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E). Higher education plays an essential role in fostering environments that nurture these innovators, and together we can support each other in strengthening an ecosystem that is equitable and inclusive.
To help catalyze this effort, we recently published a report, Advancing Equity: Dynamic Strategies for Authentic Engagement in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Based on the learnings from a national study we commissioned last year to identify promising practices and efforts to broaden participation in the higher education I&E ecosystem, this report describes action areas we can implement to foster greater equity and inclusion in programs that support innovators. I encourage you to read the report and share your feedback with us about what you or your institution is doing that is working (or not) to help broaden participation. Look out also for news about webinars and community conversations that we are facilitating this fall to learn from each other and work together to advance equity in science and technology I&E.
We are taking action with our VentureWell programs, as well. A year ago, we created a new access pathway for student innovators to apply for an E-Team grant. The Qualification application doesn’t require a VentureWell Membership—which we understand is often a barrier for students or their faculty advisor to even consider applying for our grants—and selected teams get validation and customized feedback to help them secure the necessary institutional support and materials for their full grant application. We are taking steps to integrate more of the strategies highlighted in our Advancing Equity report into our E-Team program and have set a goal for ourselves to substantially grow the number of students from historically marginalized groups in our training programs.
reducing your financial burden
Also, recognizing that the financial challenges facing many higher ed institutions this year mean that VentureWell Membership may be out of reach for many more of you, we decided to offer a no-cost Membership option. A current VentureWell Membership is still required for any E-Team or faculty grant application, but this year there is no fee. We hope this small change enables more of you to take advantage of our funding opportunities to support your student teams and your curricular or program innovations in the coming year.
how can we support you?
I invite you to tell us how else we can support you this year. Download and read our Advancing Equity report. Let us know what you think of it. Sign up to join our upcoming webinars and community conversations to learn about and discuss ways we can work together to advance equity in science and technology I&E.
VentureWell stands ready to help you navigate the extraordinary challenges in the academic year ahead. Together, we can work to enable all aspiring innovators to achieve their potential and impact on the world, intentionally elevating and amplifying the voices and ideas of those who are marginalized in science and technology I&E. Let’s continue the conversation—I would value the chance to connect.
– Phil Weilerstein, VentureWell President and CEO