Three scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have spoken with venture capital partners and leaders in academia, science, and business and collected statistics to answer the question, “Why don’t women biologists found biotech companies at the same rate as men?”
The Boston Biotech Working Group, formed by Sangeeta Bhatia, MD, PhD, Susan Hockfield, PhD, and Nancy Hopkins, PhD, has announced a pledge signed by five venture capital firms to help grow the percentage of women on boards of directors at biotech companies from 14% to 25% by 2022.
The Working Group examined academic-founder rates across seven science and engineering departments at MIT and discovered that women founded or co-founded only 10% of the 250 biotech companies formed between 2000 and 2018, despite making up 22% of these departments’ faculty. Had current women faculty founded companies at the same rate as their male colleagues, there would have been 40 to 50 more startups.
“We hear from women and men that one reason for women not to [start companies] is that they haven’t been part of the conversations that introduce them to the routes and the people that would make navigating that path possible,” Dr. Hockfield said. “The projects we propose have dual purpose: to introduce the [venture capitalists] and board [of directors] and scientific advisory board members to women who are ready to engage in entrepreneurship; and to give women the vocabulary and network necessary for their success.”
Missing from the Working Group’s pledge were commitments to fund more women entrepreneurs in biotech or increase the number of women in venture capital firms. In 2016, less than 2% of startup funding went to women-founded companies. In addition, only 8.4% of venture capital principals – those who make investment decisions – are women.