About Equalize Startups

Established in 2020, Equalize Startups is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program that is taking national action around the disparity of women academic inventors forming university startups. Equalizers receive education, a field-specific mentor, and access to networks that drive new entrepreneurial connections. They can include faculty, postdocs, and graduate students in STEM disciplines.

two women talking at a table.

What is Equalize Startups?

Equalize Startups is a pitch competition and symposium program that seeks to equalize the pathway for academic women who want to commercialize their innovations. Participants (aka Equalizers) receive regular mentoring sessions with an experienced leader in their field and seminars to help develop business ideas and pitch decks. Equalizers gain new connections and a knowledge toolkit of knowledge about selling their ideas in the startup world.

The Equalize team was incredibly supportive and got to know me. It was a phenomenal experience.

Jennifer Blain Christen

Arizona State University

I was paired with an AMAZING mentor and the classroom type teaching sessions were invaluable.

Guelay Bilen-Rosas

University of Wisconsin

How it Works

Candidates apply to the program in the fall. Equalizers are announced in December, and virtual mentoring and training sessions commence the following January in subjects such as fundraising basics, pitching to investors, government funding sources, startup banking needs, recruiting quality talent, and more. Peer cohort sessions provide opportunities to connect and learn from other Equalizers.

An in-person learning day in the spring includes:

  • Peer networking
  • Meeting and learning from investors and entrepreneurial experts
  • Branding and speed-pitch practice
  • Educational panels
  • Reception and dinner with entrepreneurs and investors

The program culminates in a virtual pitch event in June at which Equalizers pitch their business ideas to hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, university tech transfer professionals, and supporters of university startups. Here is a sample agenda:

  • Welcome and Keynote Address
  • Pitch Competition
  • Panel Discussion
  • Closing and Awards

Subject categories for Equalize 2024 are medical technologies, therapeutics, physical sciences, and digital tools

Other Ways to Participate

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Program History

Equalize Startups was founded in 2020 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program. Since its inception, Equalize Startups has provided mentorship, education, and business strategy review to over 90 women faculty members. Their outcomes have ranged from a newly launched company, to raising seed and Series A funding. The program was founded by Nichole Mercier, PhD, Assistant Vice Chancellor for the Office of Technology Management at Washington University in St. Louis, and Kirsten Leute, Partner at Osage University Partners.