AWARE (Advancing Women and UnderRepresented Entrepreneurs) is now on its third year, and with the combined efforts of Research Park and the Technology Entrepreneur Center, has helped fund and connect women through I-Corps, SBIR, and the Cozad New Venture Competition. This program targets support for women and underrepresented groups in an effort to bring them into the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem at Illinois.
The ultimate goal of the AWARE program is integration. Laura Bleill, Associate Director of the Research Park, explains that, “Our goal is to very much put some effort and intentionality around funneling people into the existing ecosystem and really affect change in the culture of the ecosystem in a way that we can impact. We did that through a little bit of social engineering, but also a little bit of extra opportunity and resources. We want to understand the impediments, challenges and resistance of some people that are clearly well qualified and have the ability and the interest in moving forward with something entrepreneurial.”
Nina Kshetry, founder of Champaign-based startup Ensaras which received a $100,000 grant from the NSF in 2015, shares that, “The AWARE program and EnterpriseWorks have made me feel part of the local entrepreneurship community, which is important since as an entrepreneur you can often spend a lot of time working solo. The resources and programming through AWARE and EnterpriseWorks have been amazing, and have helped me through the entrepreneurial journey.”
Over the last two years, AWARE participants have successfully applied for I-Corps and SBIR grants. There is still a lot of room to grow, as Laura Bleill states, “We would like to market to specific people we think would be interested, be much more prescriptive of the programming we offer, and have more resources for not only proof-of concept awards, but also for sending people to training or conferences.”
To learn more about AWARE, click here.