With “Rocket Fuel” Pilot Program, Werth Institute Sets Sights on Supporting First-Year Women Entrepreneurs

A new program launched by UConn's Werth Institute aims to empower undergraduate women to become innovators and entrepreneurs.

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A pilot cohort of 11 first-year women will take part in a new effort through UConn's Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to support upcoming women entrepreneurs. (Contributed Photos)

Women-owned businesses make up nearly half of the small-to-medium business market in the U.S., employing millions of workers and contributing even more to the federal, state, and local economies.

But a notable gender gap in the business world exists – only 3 percent of venture capital is allocated toward women-founded ventures – creating significant hurdles for women striving to innovate and pursue their entrepreneurial passions.

UConn’s Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, however, is working toward creating lasting change and equity, and it’s putting its resources to work through a new pilot program aimed at engaging first-year undergraduate women with mentorship, networking, and resources to support their entrepreneurial journey at the University.

“We are aiming to use rocket fuel with this pilot group of freshmen women,” says The Werth Institute Director David Noble.

Launched during the fall semester, an initial cohort of 11 women from diverse, multidisciplinary fields of study was selected for the pilot group of The Werth Institute’s “Freshman Female Founders.” While modeled after the highly successful Werth Innovators program, the cohort will have an opportunity to specifically focus on building their confidence and network earlier in their career at UConn by starting in their first year.

“When we talk about UConn providing Life-Transformative Education, it’s opportunities like these that help us fulfill our aspirations that students’ experiences at UConn will be a catalyst for their professional and personal discovery,” says Carl Lejuez, UConn’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “I congratulate this initial cohort of entrepreneurs and look forward to following their progression through this program.”

“First-year women will have the opportunity to have a freshman-to-sophomore summer program with us to execute a project – mapped out and proposed during their spring semester – to launch a business or create some program with a lasting impact on UConn or society at large,” says The Werth Institute Leadership Programs Coordinator Katie Britt. “We are very excited about the students who came forward to participate in this initial pilot. They are eager, driven, and ready to launch with us, and we can’t wait to deliver the support and resources available to them at the Werth Institute and at UConn.”

“Thirty percent of participants of entrepreneurial programs at UConn are women,” Noble says. “We need to create lasting change and equity across gender and gaps, which involves signaling, emotional support, and financial support. This program is a beacon for young women across the country to find their home with the Werth Institute and an entrepreneurial future.”

Browse the gallery below to meet this impressive group of first-year women entrepreneurs:

For more information about The Werth Institute and entrepreneurial opportunities available at UConn, visit entrepreneurship.uconn.edu