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Shesnnovation Academy: an accelerator program for female scientists in technology 

Shesnnovation Academy: an accelerator program for female scientists in technology taking their first steps in business. Through a series of mentoring meetings and comprehensive training, the program offers support in developing startups. It also promotes gender equality in the field of innovation. 

Program to support female scientists

Perspektywy Women in Tech Foundation is an organization that focuses on empowering women in science, technology and business. The program’s flagship project is the Women in Tech Summit, which takes place once a year, in June in Warsaw. Every edition, the program attracts more and more female participants. Last year there were as many as 11,000 people from all over the world, taking part in the online and offline meeting. It is an amazing event, with a very well-thought-out structure and a unique atmosphere that strongly encourages networking, says Dr. Agnieszka Mlodzinska-Granek.

For the past two years, Ms. Agnieszka, together with Dr. Patrycja Radek, has been coordinating another program, the Shesnnovation Academy, which is one of the many programs of the Perspektywy Women in Tech Foundation supporting women in the development of their professional paths. Shesnnovation Academy is an accelerator program for women in technology – this year having its fifth edition, it supports female scientists on their way to founding their startup, as well as in developing existing technology companies founded by women. The program is also open to female PhD students and graduates who want to incubate or accelerate their ideas, Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek says about the program.

Partners of the program are: Citi Foundation and Kronenberg Citi Handlowy Foundation. Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek talks about the mission of Shesnnovation Academy:

“It’s about making sure that the ideas of the participants don’t just end up somewhere hidden in their desks. We want them to see the light of day, and we want the participants to receive the best possible support in realizing these amazing projects.”

Mentoring and training

Within Shesnnovation Academy, support is provided in two ways. On the one hand, there is a mentoring program – participants work individually, with a pre-selected mentor. The invited mentors have a lot of experience and expertise, thanks to which they support the participants in the development of their business idea. At the same time, the participants take part in a wide and professional training offer. This provides an opportunity to develop the soft and hard skills needed in business. “The recipients of this program are female scientists who are potentially thinking about commercializing and bringing their ideas to the market, but do not yet have the knowledge in this area,” notes Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek, emphasizing how important this holistic approach is.

The program lasts for six months, and at the end there is a big final event, Shesnnovation Academy, during which the program participants pitch their ideas in front of an expert jury – this year’s Startup Stage at the Women in Tech Summit will take place on June 13, 2024, at Expo XXI in Warsaw.

“We wanted the participants to have a chance to be introduced to a wider audience that represents the entire startup ecosystem, so we are opening the big important Summit Stage for them,”

says Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek.

Recruiting for the program

Shesnnovation Academy is already a recognized brand and the program is very popular. Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek says there are more than 100 applications, from all over Poland. 35 women are selected for the program in each edition.

Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek hopes that the large number of applications is related to the fact that more and more women are active in science and technology.

An important criterion for selecting participants for the program is that the ideas submitted should be related to the STEM field. Projects should also be technology-based, well-chosen business models and scalable. The expert panel, during which applications are evaluated, also focuses on whether the idea is innovative and has the potential to play a real impact.

“We are committed to inviting women who want to solve specific problems. Those who are aware that we are at such a point as a society that we need solutions which will improve the quality of life,”

Identifying the potential of ideas is helped by the fact that the entire expert panel, including Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek and Dr. Radek has experience in evaluating and supporting startups. Thanks to their experience, based on years of knowledge, they are aware of how important it is also to see the motivation and determination of the person who submits the project.

“We know that without this it is not possible to develop these projects. You need strong personal motivation,”

says Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek.

Empowerment and a sense of agency

For her, the program is a combination of different threads; she herself is a social scientist, combining social-humanities disciplines with innovation-related threads. Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek, in conversations with Shesnnovation Academy participants, had a chance to see that such programs are actually needed to bring about social change, as they give women a sense of empowerment and an opportunity to participate in creating change, in business and innovation.

All the participants said that Shesnnovation Academy was a program that made a big difference for them. 

“Their ideas pivoted, there were times when they were implemented with other teams. Some have postponed their activities. But they all continue on this path in developing innovations,”

says Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek

“I already know how to do it, because I was given all these resources” they said during joint discussions. The participants also shared thoughts that without the program it would be more difficult for them now. They emphasize that because the program is aimed at women, they have been given empowerment and comfort and a network of support.

“They don’t have to waste their energy on proving that they can do something, they just focus on projects and merit”

She also stresses that despite the fact that the program is aimed exclusively at women, the Foundation is committed to creating diversified teams:

“We see the greatest strength in teams that are diverse. We are aware of scientific studies saying that it is such teams that achieve the best results. On the other hand, in order for there to be such teams, it is certainly necessary to start by strengthening women.”

The participants told Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek that the program made them feel competent, and they are no longer intimidated by the fact of being the only woman on the team. 

“They themselves say that this program gives them courage. This shows that the program has many layers. Not only the mentoring and workshop one, but even the psychological and social one.”

The future of the program and the joint effort for gender equality

The program coordinators want Shesnnovation Academy to be an international program in the future. Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek stresses that opening the program to women from outside Poland would be of great value to all participants. This would not only allow to go beyond the confines of one market, but would also facilitate further diversification of the teams. Speaking about the future of the program, Dr. Mlodzinska-Granek adds that it is important to mention again why Shesnnovation Academy is not a program aimed at men.

“We need to keep in mind that our advocacy for women stems from the fact that it is women who are discriminated against. We don’t have equality on the side of women, this is still a marginalized group. If we want to take care of gender equality, we have to take care of women today.”

She stresses that the idea is not to not cooperate with men. On the contrary, the ultimate goal is precisely to cooperate in order to create the aforementioned, diverse and smart teams. However, a lot of work needs to be put in and those elements that don’t quite work yet need to be taken care of:

“It’s important that men also understand this perspective, that as women, we need allies among them, working for gender equality.” She says that at work, where people have equal access to their rights, responsibilities or privileges, everyone benefits. “This makes us strengthen each other. That’s why it’s so important to put effort into the topic of social change in this area.”

Fot. Unsplash

Barbara Niemczyk
Bio:
I graduated from a bachelor's degree in applied linguistics and a master's degree in journalism. I have done numerous internships and fellowships in the past years, including a translation traineeship at one of the EU Institutions and a journalistic fellowship at Deutsche Welle. I have a big passion for telling stories, talking with people and exchanging ideas. I am proactive and have excellent writing skills and ease at making new connections. I like to spend my free time sailing, hiking and practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
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