Students, faculty and staff recently participated in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s inaugural Women in STEM Innovative Solutions Workshop. A collaboration between the IDEA Hub Accelerator and the Women in STEM Program, the event aimed to create a community of support among women innovators on campus.
Maia Donohue, director of the IDEA Hub Accelerator, has held a number of recent workshops to teach members of the university community more about entrepreneurship and help them turn their ideas into businesses. However, he noticed women students were not attending the events – an issue, he said, that is reflective of national trends.
“Women are dramatically underrepresented in entrepreneurship – from the idea stage all the way up to the funding,” said Donohue. “Part of the problem is that most venture capitalists are men. However, women make up 51% of the buying force.”
Donohue teamed up with Tammy Salmon-Stephens, director of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science Student Success Programs, to create this new event, targeted to women in STEM.
“We wanted to focus on innovation rather than entrepreneurship and having women’s voices engaged in innovative conversations as needed,” said Salmon-Stephens. “We need a space for women where they can sit back and think about what innovation means and how we might use innovation to solve problems they might be aware of that others aren’t.”
“For a lot of people, entrepreneurship can seem intimidating,” said Donohue. “Some people think of it as raising a million dollars, but really it just starts with having a fun idea. I really wanted to get into the fun part at the workshop and see where it goes after that.”
The workshop included an exercise Donohue calls the “nine-minute solution sprint,” where participants work in groups and have three minutes to identify a problem, three minutes to create a solution and three minutes to strategize revenue and a business name.
“I really enjoyed the event, and it reminded me that the UW-Platteville campus has an amazing Women in STEM community that is supportive and interactive,” said Olivia Schweiger, a sophomore from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. “I think it’s important for us women in STEM to collaborate. As a woman in STEM, this event helped me feel seen and excited that other women are as interested in STEM, if not more.”
Schweiger, who is a mechanical engineering major, said she wanted to join the event because she enjoys creating and hoped to learn new skills that will help her current research projects.
“I have worked closely with Dr. [Jodi] Prosise on a research project about plastic, and I want to improve my skills in creating so I can contribute to the team even more,” said Schweiger. “I have also done individual research with Dr. [Antonette] Cummings on a separate project that I want to start prototyping and possibly have a tangible item of by the end of the semester.”
MJ Stephens, a sophomore industrial engineering major from Platteville, also joined the event to build her skill set.
“My parents recently bought a small business and asked me if I would like to contribute to the start-up,” said Stephens. “I saw this event and thought it would be perfect to practice my innovation and entrepreneurship skills, as well as to make connections. After the workshop, I feel more confident in sharing my ideas and problem solving and am excited to be working with the family business.”
Event organizers hope to offer another workshop, targeted specifically again to women in STEM at UW-Platteville.
“There is just something special about being in a place where all ideas are heard, encouraged and appreciated,” said Stephens. “I think it’s fair to say that women in our field are a bit outnumbered on campus, so it was really awesome to be collaborating with other women in STEM at this event.”
For more information about the IDEA Hub, visit www.ideahubaccelerator.com. For more information about UW-Platteville’s nationally-recognized Women in STEM program, visit www.uwplatt.edu/department/women-stem-program.