WASHINGTON, DC (September 26, 2022) – The WEPAN Accelerator Program, an award-winning two-day workshop on STEM entrepreneurship, recognizes participants for their achievements in innovation.
The WEPAN Accelerator Program takes an intersectional feminist approach to supporting women in engineering ventures by creating inclusive and socially equitable entrepreneurship ecosystems. The Accelerator Program is a 2021 winner of the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, which is aimed at spurring investment in underserved communities within the innovation economy at scale.
The two-day workshop included pitch and mentoring events and will be followed by an SBIR/STTR workshop, a HUBZone (an SBA program for small companies that operate and employ people in Historically Under-utilized Business Zones) workshop, and ongoing mentoring support from advisory boards and alumnae networks.
Muhsinah L. Morris and her venture, Metaverse United, won the Pitch Progress Award, honoring an entrepreneur who shows growth in their pitching skill development over the two days. Morris is the CEO/Founder of Metaverse United & Metaversity Director and an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Morehouse College. Metaverse United is an educational consulting business designed to help people and organizations develop autonomy in the Metaverse, an embodiment of the internet.
“I wanted to participate in the WEPAN Accelerator program because I wanted to learn how to do more with my business and innovation,” she says. “I want to leverage the resources that WEPAN provides to create a strong and lasting business model, and I want to pass this education along to increase representation in the C-suite of Black women.”
Levern Currie and her venture, Drivingo, won the Impact Award, honoring an entrepreneur who demonstrates a clear potential for high impact through their work. Currie is CEO/Founder of Drivingo, the world's first speech-independent gesture recognition technology for restaurant and drive-thru services.
“I wanted to participate in the WEPAN accelerator program in order to learn more about the entrepreneurial process and gain insight into how I, as a female founder, could grow and develop my business more effectively,” she says.
Shudipto Dishari and her venture, Innopoly, won the Core Concept Award honoring an entrepreneur who makes a compelling case for the viability of their business. Dishari is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. InnoPoly, which is a pitch Dishari created for the Accelerator Program, works with polymers, or giant macromolecules, to provide innovative and effective solutions for clean energy technologies.
“I came to know about the Accelerator program through our Associate Dean for Faculty and Inclusion at UNL College of Engineering, and I wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship. The systematic training was truly an enriching experience for a beginner like myself, and it was also wonderful to get connected with some inspiring female professionals. Learning from others’ experience, I would say, is a privilege.”
Jin Kim Montclare and her venture, Tein, won the Making Traction Award, honoring an entrepreneur who shows early evidence of traction for their idea among customers and/or in the market.
Montclare is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Director of the Convergence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, and co-Director of Computationally Designed-Genetically Engineered Materials. TEIN is a startup focused on reinventing what nature has to offer, and its flagship product HydroGEN is a non-invasive injectable protein-based hydrogel that can treat and stop the progress of osteoarthritis.
“For a long time, I have been interested in moving the technologies we have developed in our lab into the market and the WEPAN Accelerator Program was the perfect venue to help us develop our pitch, gain mentors and work together with other brilliant women entrepreneurs,” says Montclare.
A full list of participating entrepreneurs: Gillian Bayne, Ph.D; Levern Currie, Ph.D. student; Shudipto Dishari, Ph.D; Bethany Farmer, M.S.; Somilez Francis, M.S.; Marjorie Gondre-Lewis, Ph.D.; Fatima Jackson, M.S.; Nora Khalil, Ph.D. student; Aarti Kuver, Ph.D.; Jin Kim Montclare, Ph.D.; Muhsinah Morris, Ph.D.; Isabela Ramirez, Ph.D.; and Ariel Stoltz, M.S.
The WEPAN Accelerator Program is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation through a generous award to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
Ten participants will continue their entrepreneurial work as Convergence Fellows with the AAC&U over the next year. The Convergence Fellowship Program, led by Principal Investigator Kelly Mack, supports two cohorts of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color) women innovators working in public interest technology and social entrepreneurship as they address the specific challenges that arise from deep societal needs, including those unique to these communities. The WEPAN Accelerator served as the kick-off for the first cohort of Fellows, who were joined by additional participating entrepreneurs for the two-day program.
“The WEPAN Accelerator Program is an invaluable aspect of the professional development offered to our Convergence Fellows over the next year,” says Kelly Mack, Ph.D., Vice President for Undergraduate STEM Education and Executive Director of Project Kaleidoscope at the AAC&U. “The awareness and sensitivity to the unique professional and personal needs of BIPOC women in entrepreneurial spaces is fully aligned with AAC&U’s mission-level commitment to inclusive excellence. We are extremely grateful to the Luce Foundation for this opportunity to contribute to advancing the innovations of BIPOC women scientists and very proud to be co-laborers in this work with our colleagues at WEPAN.”
“WEPAN is excited to partner with AAC&U in supporting BIPOC women innovators in STEM who are working to change the world,” says Ershela Sims, Ph.D., Executive Director of WEPAN. “The WEPAN team is honored to be part of their journeys.”
WEPAN is a non-profit educational organization founded in 1990. It is the nation’s first network dedicated to advancing cultures of inclusion and diversity in engineering higher education and workplaces. WEPAN connects people, research and practice. It offers power initiatives, projects and professional development that equips advocates with the tools to create sustainable, systems-level changes that allow ALL in engineering to thrive. To learn more, visit www.wepan.org.