UofL's Angelique Johnson is one of the few African American female researchers who have received a small business innovation grant from the federal government.
UofL's Angelique Johnson is one of the few African American female researchers who have received a small business innovation grant from the federal government this year. She was a presenter at the AWARE-ACCESS program this week in Indianapolis.

Ask any entrepreneur— founding a business is hard. But a new University of Louisville partnership is working to make it a little easier, especially for women and underrepresented minorities.

It’s part of a pilot program called AWARE:ACCESS, or Accelerating Women and Underrepresented Entrepreneurs: Accelerate Entrepreneurial Success, which is in its first year of providing networking, training and other support.

Speakers with UofL ties, including some founders, were highlighted at the program’s Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Summit in Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

One of those presenters was Maggie Galloway, CEO of Louisville-based health tech company Inscope Medical Solutions, which she co-founded as a UofL MBA student. She said programs like AWARE:ACCESS are important because “the odds are against female and minority founders.”

Fortune reports that just 2 percent of venture capital went to female startup founders in 2016. According to Bloomberg, a recent study of more than 60,000 startups found just 88 were led by black women — about 4 percent of the 2,200 total women-led tech startups in the U.S.

“Women and underrepresented researchers have great innovations, but have lagged in successful federal grant funding programs for early stage startup companies: SBIR and STTR awards,” said UofL’s Dr. Rob Keynton, lead investigator. “We’re trying to change that with this program.”

Galloway said the program is  an extension of UofL’s current support for entrepreneurs, such as technology licensing, the FirstBuild makerspace and the LaunchIt business accelerator.

“UofL’s involvement in this program shows that UofL is not only committed to the commercialization of great UofL technologies, but also supportive of the entrepreneurs driving the commercialization,” she said.

Another presenter is Dr. Angelique Johnson, who founded her health-tech company, MEMStim LLC, using on-campus facilities. She said programs like AWARE:ACCESS also support women and minorities who want to found companies in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“This program is important, because too few women and minority entrepreneurs are going into the STEM space,” she said. “We need more attention placed on this critical issue.”

The AWARE:ACCESS program, funded through a National Science Foundation grant, is a partnership between UofL, Indiana University and Missouri University of Science and Technology.

NSF program director, Dr. Jesus Soriano, said he hopes AWARE:ACCESS “will enable more underserved groups to get entrepreneurship training and achieve their technological and commercial potential, as well as help enhance U.S. leadership in science and engineering.”

MEMStim is now working to translate its technology to the clinical marketplace. After its founding, Inscope went on to win several prestigious business competitions, and soon, will launch its first device into the market at the American College of Emergency Medicine conference.