Promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in University Spinout Companies - A case for Action

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Abstract

Too few women researchers are leading spinout companies. There has not been enough attention focused on the progression of women researchers at all career stages on the entrepreneurial pathway from research to spinout leadership. Whilst challenges relating to women's research career progression are well understood, the STEM community and the Higher Education (HE) sector as a whole are not as well informed about women entrepreneurial career progression pathways to spinout. Research shows that founders and co-founders of university spinout companies are predominantly men. For example, the Enterprise Research Centre (2014) survey of a sample of 350 active UK spinouts found that women were the main founders in only 8.3% of cases. The disproportionately low numbers of women founders are not limited to UK spinouts. Research carried out by Elsevier (2017) comparing the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia, shows that although there has been an increase in the global share of women among inventors listed in patent applications from 11% (between 1996-2000) to 14% (between 2011-2015), they remain significantly under-represented among all the countries included in the study. Encouraging and understanding women's engagement in spinout companies is of strategic importance to the UK's new Industrial Strategy which aims to increase investment in science, research and innovation and to support new businesses and growth. Therefore, there is a compelling case for better understanding barriers as well as enabling factors that exists for women scientists, engineers and mathematician in key stages of the spinout process and entrepreneurial activities to commercialise research and innovation.
This project vision is to achieve a step change in institutional capabilities to increase the participation of women researchers in STEM disciplines in university spinouts and to mainstream gender in the ecosystem which drives innovation. Our project aims to achieve a step change in institutional capabilities to increase the participation of women scientists, engineers and mathematicians in spinouts through the development of a series of interventions to build their innovative and entrepreneurial skills designed to translate their inventions into spinout companies. The project will last 24 months and be articulated into two stages. Stage one will focus on research to understand the causes of women's under-representation in spinouts, and individuals' self-perception of innovation, drawing from existing methods. The second stage of the project will develop practical solutions for institutions to create inclusive opportunities and overcome the barriers for women who take the journey from research to spinout.

Findings from our research and best practice will be shared with EPSRC and the wider community at institutional, sector, department and individual levels. Adaption and delivery of entrepreneurial leadership development will enable women to initiate and lead spinouts, grow innovation, entrepreneurial ambitions, confidence and competencies in women scientists engineers and mathematicians. Our findings will be inspired by role models, career stories and mentoring arrangements with successful women spinout CEOs and Board members.

Planned Impact

Impact summary
Transformation and impact are key elements of our research plan. Implementation of findings will be ongoing, embedded and sustainable to raise awareness, generate public debate and disseminate key project outputs. In order to achieve our ambitious vision and maximum impact, this project will involve a range of stakeholders both from the academic STEM community, industry and policy makers and engage them in a process of knowledge co-creation to achieve sustainable change. A project Advisory Board will be set up to include the following partners who have confirmed their support and interest in being involved in this project: Dr Katy Gearing, Head of Industry Engagement at the Royal Society; Dr Lesley Thompson, Vice President Academic and Government Strategic Alliance at Elsevier; Ahmed Goga, Director of Strategy and Programmes at OxLEP; and Professor David Gavaghan, Chair of UoO Computer Science Equality and Diversity Committee and Director of EPSRC-funded Doctoral Training Programme, Dr Michele Babour CEO of Pertinax Pharma (spinout), and Dr Olivia Champion CEO of BioSystems Thecnology (spinout), Dr Sue O'Hare, Operation Manager European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre, Harwell Campus Dictot and a representative from Enterprise Educator UK.
Our pathway to impact strategy is articulated in the following strands:
Communication and dissemination of project aims and outputs: On-going throughout, tools such as project web-pages and activities such as roundatable discussions/workshops and networking with industry will be key to outreach and generating public debate.
Instrumental impact on the STEM community in HE: Training interventions developed as part of this project are aimed at developing institutional capability through change of practices, nurturing the entrepreneurial skills of women scientists engineers and mathematicians. The interventions will be piloted in the grant host institutions and rolled out to other institutions. The resources developed will be freely available to Higher Education institutions. Other key project activities that will help to achieve greater participation of women in the spinout process as well as cultural change include: the development of a mentoring programme in collaboration with industry; increased visibility of role models. It is also anticipated that some of the findings and outputs from this project could contribute to the development of equality guidance for the proposed Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF).
Impact on the national and regional economy: The team will work closely with local policy makers, including OxLEP and the City Council, to ensure that boosting the participation of women scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the local innovation eco-system becomes an objective of regional innovation strategies. This will provide a template that can be adopted in other regions of the UK to harness the talent of women researchers and achieve greater economic growth.
International impact: Involving ITCILO Gender Academy offers a platform to disseminate the project outputs and engage with the international STEM community.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Key findings relate to women's participation as founders of spin out companies across the UK. All of this is detailed in the interim report which has been uploaded under engagement activities.
Exploitation Route We have been invited to submit a bid to the UKRI RED fund to continue and expand the work of this project.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/
 
Description The findings of the interim report have been presented at several engagement events including with colleagues from local and national Government, to Innovate UK and local businesses through the Oxford LEP Innovation Group. Further impact work is in progress.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Blog - Women in Spinouts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The blogs are thought-provoking pieces drawing on existing evidence. Their aim is to raise awareness on equality-related issues for women in STEM.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/blog/
 
Description Presentation on Gender and University Spinouts in the UK: Geography, Governance and Growth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Well over 100 people attended the presentation which was done in different locations (University of Nottingham, Royal Academy of Engineering in London, Oxford Brookes University, Innovate UK London) that discussed the findings from research investigating under-representation of women as founders of spinout companies. These presentations were followed by panel discussions with women who have successfully founded spinouts, technology transfer officers and lawyers to identify action that can be taken to improve women's representation in spinout leadership.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
URL https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/
 
Description Published Research Reports 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This report presents the findings from research looking at women's representation as the founders of spinout companies. It also looks at the geographical distribution of spinouts across the UK and the governance of these companies. The data analysis and results are based on data on UK spinout companies provided by Beauhurst.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/gender-and-university-spinouts-in-the-uk/
 
Description Twitter - Women in STEM Spinouts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The project twitter has over 320 followers and the twitter account is part of the project dissemination plan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://twitter.com/WomenSpinouts
 
Description Website - women in Spinouts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The web-pages are a key element of the project dissemination strategy. They provide information about the project, they are a repository for project outputs such as research reports, training materials, etc. They showcase a number of profiles of women in STEM who have successfully created a spinout company, host blogs, twitter feed, and useful resources and other relevant information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/