Enterprise SU

InnovateHer – Female students rising to a challenge

As we mark International Women’s day, it is important to celebrate achievement and advances, but also reflect on where change still needs to come. Women are under-represented in senior corporate roles, although the situation is improving, with the number of women on FTSE boards up by 50% in five years.  The recent Rose review of female entrepreneurship laid bare some of the figures around female representation in start-ups and early stage businesses. There is also emerging evidence of the negative  impact of the pandemic  on women in the workforce and business, including access to venture capital.  

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge is as important as ever, a call to action to counter emerging barriers and keep up the momentum. Initiatives to support and encourage female founders and entrepreneurs make a difference and contribute to a more diverse business environment.

Enterprise SU supports students through our various competitions and events; this year we are approaching the 10th anniversary of our dedicated InnovateHer programme for female students. Innovateher is a 13 week programme consisting of a range of workshops and events designed to inspire and equip the next generation of female students. Over the course of the programme, the cohort cover topics such as Idea Generation, Design Thinking, Pitching, Marketing and Leadership. We have about 25-30 participants every year, drawn from various degree pathways. It’s always encouraging to see students from non-business courses get involved, learning new skills and developing a business idea.  

The 2020-2021 InnovateHer programme was an enforced departure from the norm, and Pandemic restrictions saw all the sessions delivered online. That did provide challenges and opportunities. Logging into sessions remotely and working together at a distance is a different experience, but it still enabled access to great speakers and contributors. During Global Entrepreneurship week we were joined by CEO’s, filmmakers, start-ups and multinational executives for a webinar aiming to inspire the next generation.  

InnovateHer is above everything a practical programme, not just motivating students but enabling them to participate in group activities and apply their learning. A core element is a business pitching competition, offering cash prizes across various categories.  It’s competitive, but also co-operative as groups work together to put together a business idea and present it to a panel of judges.

This year’s final pitching competition required students to record a group video pitch, and then respond to judge’s queries in a live webinar.  Four prizes of £250 each were up for grabs, and all team members participated.

Best Pitch went to a team considering gender equality for an idea on period products. Congrats to Jenni, Lisa Fraya and Emily.

Our Judges Choice award went to a team exploring climate action who presented an idea for sustainable and locally inspired mobile phone cases. Well done Dominka, Emma, Sarah and Jessica May.

The winners of the Best Use of Technology prize included teammates MaryClare, Alexandra and Rebecca for an app based service and resource supporting students with their mental health.

Rebecca, Emma and Phoebe shared the prize for Most Innovate Idea, with their proposal for an enterprise addressing sustainability in fashion and clothing. 

Considering this is an extra-curricular activity all our participants deserve great credit for the work they put in throughout the programme. They certainly did #ChooseToChallenge by sticking with the programme and adapting to the online environment, we wish them well in the future.

A special word of thanks to Helen Keys, ESU Entrepreneur in Residence for leading sessions, mentoring student teams and keeping the Zoom gremlins at bay.

Finally, we would like to thank our main sponsors Baker McKenzie alongside our long-term partners Women in Business for making this programme possible.

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