UO network cultivates women entrepreneurs and mentorship

The hurdles facing women entrepreneurs are challenging but not insurmountable, says Mandy Gettler, co-leader of the Women’s Innovation Network. Those obstacles are often complicated, but they also can be as simple as what to wear or how to make sure you’re heard.

“I’ve been fortunate to have amazing male mentors,” said Gettler, who is the co-leader of WIN. “But they could not prepare me for all the challenges women face. What do you wear for a business presentation? Sometimes, your dress doesn’t have a place to clip on a lavalier microphone.”

That barrier can be overcome with some preparation, Gettler added. She points to research on gender and communication that demonstrates how women’s voices are often ignored and how certain words and strategies can help. By practicing proven verbal tactics and having a toolkit of useful phrases at the ready, women entrepreneurs can communicate clearly and effectively.

Those are a few ways that WIN helps women entrepreneurs. The initiative, a collaboration with the university’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and nonprofit Onward Eugene, brings together UO faculty and staff, community members, and entrepreneurs to overcome gender-based barriers.

“We want to connect women with other women, so they can have conversations about entrepreneurship, help each other, and gain confidence,” Gettler said.

The program fosters a startup culture in the community, Gettler added, helping keep talent, money and jobs in Oregon. Each participant is assigned a mentor, for example Janis Weeks, co-founder and chief global health officer at InVivo Biosystems.

“I’m thrilled the UO decided to launch WIN and encourage female entrepreneurs,” said Weeks, a UO professor emerit of biology. “As an academic scientist transitioning into business, I encountered a steep learning curve and a whole different world.

“The way a business operates is very different from a research laboratory. If I can help others miss some of the mistakes I made, that’s great. Women are underrepresented in biotechnology.”

“Emerit” is used at the UO as a nongendered alternative to emerita/emeritus for retired faculty members.

Weeks added that WIN fosters camaraderie and creates welcoming spaces where participants ask lots of questions, speak openly, and learn business basics, including the jargon.

“The vocabulary alone can be overwhelming,” Weeks said. “I had to learn many new terms, phrases and concepts when I went into business. As mentors, we can help demystify these.”

Monthly WIN workshops include topics such as bringing research to market, risk tolerance, reframing failure, patents, forming a company and how to make the most of community resources.

Last year, the inaugural group of 20 UO faculty members, graduate students and Lane County entrepreneurs completed the nine-month program. The second group of 23 women started in October of 2022.

By Ed Dorsch, University Communications