FemSTEM 2022 has officially begun!

On Wednesday January 12th, H2i welcomed a line-up of outstanding speakers and an engaged audience to our annual FemSTEM Kickoff and Panel event. 

H2i Director Paul Santerre gave attendees an introduction to entrepreneurship and provided an overview of the 10-point plan used to support H2i ventures as they move through the journey from conception to scale. 

With this context in mind, the audience was split into breakout discussion rooms, chaired by guest speakers and H2i team members. In the rooms, groups were prompted to share what brought them to the event, to reflect on what the experience of women-identifying entrepreneurs is like in the healthcare innovation space—how it has changed over time, and what changes still need to be made. 

From one invigorating discussion to another, the group reconvened to begin the panel discussion with speakers Dr. Soror Sharifpoor, Dr. Rabia Khan, and Catherine Chan. Throughout the conversation, these remarkable entrepreneurs shared insight into the field at large and tangible tips for those looking to enter the health innovation space.  

Among the topics covered were the biggest learnings from their careers to date, how women in STEM can make a successful career change from bench work in a lab to being an entrepreneur, and the discrepancy between the funding towards male-led ventures versus female-led. Audience members chimed in throughout the conversation, noting the relevance of the advice and thanking the speakers for their honest and helpful insights. 

A theme that arose was how best to use one’s learnings from graduate school to establish a healthcare venture. Dr. Soror Sharifpoor noted to, “not let your education come in the way of your success,” and that while often a new graduate is looking to use their research, it is necessary to thoroughly examine a problem space to ensure there is a need. H2i team member Gabriella Chan added from the audience that it is important to keep in mind that your studies give you a wide array of transferable skills that can be applied to many careers and areas of work.  

The theme of taking the time to examine a problem space came up throughout the session. All three panelists emphasized the importance of choosing a space you are passionate about and are eager to create solutions in—being a founder is messy and taxing and taking on a problem halfheartedly is not the way to go. Catherine Chan shared that she started Honeybee Hub after repeatedly running into the same problem they are now solving, and her and her co-founder took many steps and approaches to validating the solution and thoroughly understanding the problem space.  

On the topic of the experience of being a founder, one audience member asked how the difficulties of graduate school compare with those of being an entrepreneur. Dr. Rabia Khan and Catherine Chan both noted that there is a huge amount of accountability that comes with being a founder and CEO. There is sometimes loneliness at the top by the sheer amount of responsibility, and the fact that everything ends with you. 

An engaging portion of the discussion was around the funding discrepancy between male and female led ventures. The panelists shared observations from their careers—that there are fewer female venture capitalists, that there can be differences between how male and female founders are received in these spaces and the kinds of questions they are asked by investors can vary, with more ‘softball’ questions being given to female founders at times. Beyond the agreement that we need more diversity in venture capitalist roles, the panelists shared their experiences owning their identities, and entering these rooms focused on their product and knowing how strong their pitch is.  

Overarchingly, a common theme was that one of the best things an aspiring entrepreneur or early-stage founder can do is meet and speak with established entrepreneurs, industry experts and investors. Through programming like FemSTEM, H2i hopes to continue such networking and community building. 

For more information on FemSTEM and upcoming dates, click here