AWARE Grant to Broaden Participation in Entrepreneurship

Categories : EnterpriseWorks, Investments
Posted on: November 19, 2015

AWARE in the News:

Read The Alton Daily News coverage of AWARE here.

Read The ChicagoInno coverage of AWARE here

Read The Daily Illini coverage of AWARE here and here

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign receives National Science Foundation funding to open opportunities in science and technology entrepreneurship

CHAMPAIGN — A National Science Foundation grant will fund a new program (NSF Award #1464507) to encourage and support the participation of more women and those from underrepresented groups in the science and technology entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) program is a collaboration among the College of Engineering, the Office of Technology Management, and the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the University of Illinois Research Park.  The $100,000 award will support entrepreneurship training, counseling, and networking.

“This pilot program has the potential to build our nation’s entrepreneurial pipeline in a meaningful, replicable and sustainable way,” said Dr. Jesus Soriano, a SBIR/STTR Program Director at the NSF. “By opening doors and avenues to participation, women and underrepresented groups will be more likely to join and thrive in the innovation ecosystem in the US.”

AWARE has been designed to offer resources and an enhanced infrastructure that make the current entrepreneurial ecosystem more accessible to all. Those resources include a dedicated entrepreneur-in-residence familiar with the needs of those from underrepresented groups; small proof-of-concept grants for teams; and targeted mentorship, training, and networking opportunities. In addition,  AWARE will raise the  consciousness of the entrepreneurial ecosystem as it relates to issues of diversity and inclusiveness.

“The ultimate goal of this program is broad-based, sustainable economic development in the region,” said Andreas Cangellaris, dean of the College of Engineering. “As with most engineering and entrepreneurial programs, there are too few women-led teams. We are developing a model that can be used in central Illinois and elsewhere to train and support a pipeline of women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from other underrepresented groups.”

As part of the NSF’s broadening participation initiatives, AWARE is designed to increase the number and quality of Small Business Innovation Research grant proposals (see below) submitted to the NSF by entrepreneurs from central Illinois. The SBIR program supports domestic small businesses engaged in scientific excellence and technological innovation through the investment of Federal research funds.

AWARE is being led by principal investigator Jed Taylor, director of operations at the Technology Entrepreneur Center, and co-PI Laura Weisskopf Bleill, associate director of the University of Illinois Research Park and EnterpriseWorks. The first “official” AWARE event, a panel on academic women and entrepreneurship, will take place on Dec. 3. All are welcome. 

About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) is an approximately $160 million program that catalyzes the commercialization of high-risk technological innovations via research and development grants to small businesses and startups. NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $7 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.


Jed Taylor, [email protected]

Laura Bleill, [email protected].

Sarah Bates: [email protected]

Jesus Soriano: [email protected]