Tech entrepreneur Rachel Simon-Lee works with BioSTL and Institute for Women’s Policy Research

By LaShana (Shan) Lewis

Rachel Simon-Lee, founder of Heartworks Videos, uses video to capture the most intricate surgical procedures for pediatric heart surgeons and surgeons-in-training. She participates in BioSTL’s Bioscience & Entrepreneurship Inclusion Initiative, which has worked to increase diversity in the bioscience technology industry in the St. Louis region. According to the website, it “partners with other organizations and companies to host seminars and workshops in addition to working one-on-one with innovators to connect them with resources and individuals to help them commercialize their innovations.”

The Inclusion Initiative is part of a program designed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The institute conducted and communicated research that has prompted public dialogue, shaped policy, and provided opportunities for women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR conducted this research to help women close the gender gap – the discrepancy in opportunities, status, attitudes, etc., between men and women – in the patenting, innovation, and commercialization realms.

IWPR started 30 years ago as a think tank – a body of experts providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems – founded by feminist economist and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Heidi Hartman. Hartman decided to focus IWPR on policies that affected women and men differently, particularly in economics, occupational segregation, and women in nontraditional jobs. The program also looked at the politics surrounding issues crucial to women like paid family leave and sick leave.

Elyse Shaw, senior research associate at IWPR, connected with BioSTL by cold-calling Cheryl Watkins-Moore, its director of Bioscience & Entrepreneurial Inclusion. She said Watkins-Moore wanted for BioSTL “to be part of the program right away.”

Shaw said that BioSTL’s approach was unique, in that its Inclusion Initiative did more than just work on the target audience – women looking to patent, start their own businesses, and participate in the innovation community – but also established a network of businesses and resources that helped to ensure that participants in the initiative were successful and supported.

Shaw has worked for IWPR for about six years. She has touched on just about every issue that has been addressed by IWPR. She has co-published several articles on these subjects, becoming an expert in her field. When asked about issues that block women from being successful on their own, Shaw said, “Monetary [support] and sponsorship seem to be the biggest barriers, as well as knowledge, experience and connections.”

IWPR was first funded by Qualcomm, the telecommunication company, to research the gender gap in Washington, D.C.’s patent community. The findings led to a one-day workshop, which posed a bigger question: Who else is working on this disparity issue? The organizers of the event reached out to their attendees, and landed on several around the country, including BioSTL.

Shaw indicated that an additional drawback with women with succeeding was self-doubt.

“Many believed their idea has to be perfect or polished, or that it needs someone that is knowledgeable in a way you’re not,” Shaw said. “It actually needs to have a team of people.”

Shaw said that some women think they need to do the whole patenting process by themselves, or don’t know who to go to for help. So IWPR has decided to take on this mantle.

For future entrepreneurs and women seeking to make their ideas a reality, Shaw advised, “Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you can’t, because you can. Find your passion, figure out what it is. Don’t listen to the people who are going to tell you that it’s really hard.”

Simon-Lee, who got her love of the film industry from her father, provided further insight.

“You are worthy of ambition,” Simon-Lee said. “I knew that I was a hard worker and it was expected of me. It takes a certain amount to be an entrepreneur, to think big, and outside the box. It can be daunting. The sooner that young girl can accept that and embrace that, the better.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.