AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) is programmed through the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the University of Illinois Research Park. The program exists to support entrepreneurship training, counseling, and networking.



AWARE offers 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
  • targeted mentorship, training, and networking opportunities
  • AWARE events found on the Research Park calendar

The AWARE program is led by Laura Bleill, director of  external engagement at the Research Park and EnterpriseWorks.

For more information, please contact Laura Bleill at [email protected].

Join the AWARE Mailing List

Proof of Concept Award

The AWARE program seeks to aid women and underrepresented entrepreneurs through a proof-of-concept award. The AWARE proof-of-concept award provides funding to potential SBIR/STTR applicants to enable prototype development and accelerate the path toward commercialization. Awardees may receive up to $1,500 in proof-of-concept funds. The second round of Proof of Concept award applications is now closed. Stay tuned for future award opportunities. See the video below for a presentation from proof-of-concept award winner Amanda Smith of KAS Automotive.

AWARE Workshop Series

The AWARE program hosts a four-part workshop series to introduce researchers to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Participants explore the commercialization process, engage with investment experts, and discover local resources for entrepreneurs. The spring workshop series is now complete. Please check our calendar for upcoming workshops and events.

Workshop One: Visioning Impact from Research

This workshop introduces the commercialization process and features successful women entrepreneurs at Illinois. Participants explore their own research programs, discuss potential ideas for commercialization and reflect upon the benefits and challenges of taking ideas to market.

Workshop Two: Learning the Landscape

This workshop introduces the entrepreneurship ecosystem at UIUC. Participants will learn of the entrepreneurial resources available within our community and engage with leaders within the ecosystem.

Workshop Three: Building a Team

Participants learn the importance of building an effective team to bring their innovation to market. They identify their role in the process and discover they don’t have to start a company or be the CEO.

Workshop Four: Understanding the Funding Lifecycle

Participants engage with experts from potential funding sources (public and private) to understand the available options that are most appropriate at each stage. (SBIR, Angel, Venture Capital etc.)

History of AWARE

The pilot program for AWARE was led by principal investigator Jed Taylor, director of operations at the Technology Entrepreneur Center, and co-PI Laura Bleill in a collaboration among the College of Engineering, the Office of Technology Management, and EnterpriseWorks. It was generously funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation starting in late 2016 through early 2019.

In the Fall of 2019, AWARE received a $50,000 Growth Accelerator Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. AWARE was one of 60 accelerators and incubators to win the 2019 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. The funds allow EnterpriseWorks to continue and strengthen the program by providing resources and support to female-founded tech companies. Read more about the SBA Growth Accelerator Award here.

AWARE in the News

Read what the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering wrote here.

Read what The Daily Illini wrote here.

Read the press release about the five winners of the proof of concept awards here.


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