Incubating Ideas – WILMA magazine

Women In Tech0001mainThe University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) is giving women who are starting or wanting to start a technology business a helping hand.

Through CIE’s new Idea Test Lab, a cohort of 11 women (nine individuals and one team) are learning how to turn their ideas into viable and successful businesses.

The cohort program, funded by Wells Fargo, was created to increase diversity among startup founders, explains CIE’s director HEATHER MCWHORTER. Women are underrepresented, and needed, in technology as well as in leadership positions; and often they don’t receive funding for their businesses, she adds.

“A very small percentage of funding goes to women,” says McWhorter.  “We wanted to create a spark and help women think big from the beginning. We worked backward from there: How can we help women create venture-backable businesses that are scalable and set up the right way from the outset?”

Women In Tech0015Those selected to participate in the Women in Tech cohort (pictured left) met stringent requirements. Their business ideas had to be high-impact — to potentially provide more jobs, drive innovation, and create more capital and economic growth locally and in North Carolina, according to LYDIA BJORKLUND THOMAS, CIE’s program manager. Their companies also had to be in the early stages of development and relevant to the technology sector.

The women are now in the midst of an intense four-week course of instruction, during which they define their business’s value proposition, identify its customers, explore effective marketing strategies, and discover possible revenue sources.

“They are learning what works and what won’t and if they have a viable business model,” says McWhorter. “Some of the women have already gone in a different direction. They pivoted when they realized their original path would not be scalable. It’s better to do that early so you can get to success faster.”

An equally important aspect of the cohort are the relationships the women form. Throughout the program, the women receive guidance from mentors selected to help them with specific aspects of their businesses.

Women In Tech0008Then, there’s the support they give each other. As the cohort members are at the same stage of business development, they encounter the same types of issues, learn from each others’ experiences, and share challenges. They also provide an understanding ear when needed.

“Being an entrepreneur is so lonely, so having women who support you and with whom you can carry on a relationship after the cohort is so beneficial,” says Thomas. “They often still chat with and have a relationship with each other for years out.”

The program culminates April 8 with Women in Tech Pitch Day, where the women present their business ideas to a panel of judges, potential mentors and investors, and the public.  The top three winners will receive $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000, respectively, to invest in their businesses.

McWhorter and Thomas say they hope the Women in Tech’s impact will extend far beyond these 11 women and their businesses.

“We hope to create a pipeline to other programs they can keep going as a company and that they have the resources and broad support system they need to succeed and grow, ” says Thomas.

To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.

Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.