AWARE Program Awards Three Proof of Concept Awards to Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

Categories : EnterpriseWorks, Recognition & Awards
Posted on: January 21, 2020

Champaign, Illinois (January 21, 2020) – The AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) has awarded proof of concept awards to Yeritza Perez, Amanda Smith, and Bianca Bailey.

The AWARE proof of concept award provides funding to potential SBIR/STTR applicants to enable prototype development and accelerate the path toward commercialization. The award provides up to $1,500 to each recipient to complete their proof of concept project.

Upon receipt, Perez, Bailey, and Smith and their teams have three months to complete their projects and meet their milestones using the award funds. The three award recipients have demonstrated potential to impact their industries, commercialize their concepts, and apply for SBIR funding

“Our approach with AWARE has been to make members of underrepresented groups aware of all of the great programs we have here at the University and encourage them to jump in the pool with everyone else,” said  Karin O’Connor, a dedicated entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) and mentor for the AWARE program. In addition to the financial award, each recipient was assigned EIR to provide counseling and ensure they meet project milestones.

“We want to make sure that we have an ecosystem that is welcoming and encourages all people regardless of their backgrounds,” said Laura Bleill, Director for Communications and External Engagement at the Research Park.

AWARE plans to offer another proof of concept funding opportunity in the spring. The program is also hosting a four-part workshop series to introduce researchers to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The first workshop will take place Wednesday, January 22, 2020 from 12-1 pm in Room 407 of the Illini Union. The workshop, “Visioning Impact from Research” will feature a panel of successful women entrepreneurs at Illinois. Participants will explore their own research programs, discuss potential ideas for commercialization and reflect upon the challenges of taking ideas to market.


The AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) program is administered by the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the University of Illinois Research Park. The program was created to offer resources and an enhanced infrastructure to make the current entrepreneurial ecosystem more accessible to women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. The program, with funding from the Small Business Administration, offers resources, mentoring, training, and networking.

About the Research Park at the University of Illinois

The Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a technology hub for startup companies and corporate research and development operations. Within the Research Park there are 120 companies employing students and full-time technology professionals. More information at Find the Research Park on Twitter at @UIResearchPark.