When Lesa Mitchell stepped on stage Oct. 12 at Thinc Iowa 2012, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation‘s vice president of innovation and networks sported a shirt — green, and emblazoned with “MIT” in large, white letters — that required a disclaimer. Mitchell, who gave a talk on women in entrepreneurship, explained that MIT is not her alma mater but that the school is dear to her for other reasons.
“Eight years ago, MIT decided to do something,” Mitchell said. “You didn’t read about it. You didn’t hear about it. There was no campaign. But what they decided to do is try to get 50 percent of their undergraduates (to) be women. Two years ago, it happened.”
But, as Mitchell went on to explain, education is only a small part of the equation for female entrepreneurs. In fact, she said, women in the United States are outpacing their male counterparts in undergraduate and graduate degrees. But women account for only about 28 percent of business owners in the U.S. “That’s a really little number,” Mitchell said, “when it’s the most highly educated part of our population.”
“We have this huge level of availability,” she continued. “Unfortunately, they’re not becoming entrepreneurs.”
Over the course of a 15-minute talk and 15 minutes of question-and-answer with the audience, Mitchell examined why that is and what can be done to change it.
She discussed the challenges — namely, lack of access to mentors, advisors and capital — for women starting businesses. She investigated data about the role of women in entrepreneurship. She shared stories of efforts to increase the number of women starting companies in the U.S. Above all, she encouraged the Thinc Iowa crowd to do something.
“This isn’t about girls supporting girls,” she said. “This is about … all of us trying to reach out to 50 percent of the highly educated population in this country and figuring out how to engage them in entrepreneurship and economic growth.”
For Mitchell’s talk in its entirety, watch the video above.
About Lesa Mitchell
Mitchell is vice president of Innovation and Networks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Her responsibilities include identification of programmatic and policy levers that can accelerate innovation and support networks enabling firm growth.
Mitchell was instrumental in the founding of the Kauffman Innovation Network/iBridge Network, the Translational Medicine Conferences in the United States and Europe, and the National Academies-based University–Industry Partnership. She also is a leader in the replication of innovator-based commercialization and mentor programs across the United States.
Mitchell recently served on the board of Gazelle Growth in Denmark, and currently is chairman of the Kauffman FastTrac board. She is an advisory board member of the National Science Foundation i-Corp program and of Modern Meadow Inc. Prior to joining Kauffman, Mitchell spent twenty years of her career in global executive roles at Aventis and Quintiles, and she was an entrepreneur focused on the global management of electronic clinical trials.
More from Thinc Iowa
Thinc Iowa is part of the Silicon Prairie Series, a trio of event produced by Silicon Prairie News. Stay tuned for announcements on Big Omaha 2013 in May, Thinc Iowa 2013 in October and a to-be-named Kansas City event in 2013.
Credits: Video by Event1 Video.
Thinc Iowa 2012 Video Series presented by Iowa Economic Development
Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) is dedicated to supporting innovation by connecting entrepreneurs with resources and development opportunities in Iowa. It salutes the founders of today and tomorrow; encouraging ideas that will invigorate a new economy. Please visit iowaeconomicdevelopment.com for more information on how IEDA can help your business ideas come to life.