Women in innovation: what does being a female innovator look like?

A unique photo series profiles gender diversity in innovation, spearheaded by Innovate UK and Getty Images. Take a look.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but diversity is the mother of innovation. Since the 2008 economic downturn, productivity in the UK has weakened compared to its international counterparts. Improving this has become a vital agenda for the UK government, and entrepreneurs have been the nation’s saving grace as key innovators.

Increasingly, however, innovation is linked with diversity in thought and execution.

Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to deliver better financial returns, according to a definitive study by McKinsey & Co. And when it comes to fresh, revenue-generating ideas, and connecting with the diversity of the general public, diverse management teams are arguably invaluable.

Yet there are twice as many male entrepreneurs than female, and only 14% of all people working in STEM are women. So where are female innovators and what’s holding them back from breaking through?

One in three women says their gender has negatively impacted their career in innovation, which prompted a new look at diversity in innovation, carried out by Innovate UK and Getty Images to challenge perceptions about what it means to be a woman innovator. A key barrier for entrepreneurship and innovation for women is the dearth of relatable role models. This photography series sought to challenge that.

According to Getty Images, searches for ‘female business executive’ have increased by 350% and ‘female entrepreneur’ by 66% over the past two years.

Continuing its women in innovation mission to challenge the low number of women entrepreneurs applying for funding, the portfolio is part of Innovate UK’s Infocus campaign, an umbrella initiative to encourage diversity in innovation and boost the economy as a result.

With inspiring imagery by acclaimed photographer Amelia Troubridge, the images challenge perceptions about female innovation, inspiration, creativity and entrepreneurship; redefining what people see, feel and believe about female innovation.

The series profiles 12 of the women in innovation Award holders associated with Innovate UK’s first funding competition, run solely for women. The pioneering innovations the subjects are developing range from the optimisation of cancer treatment, the creation of sustainable alternatives to animal products and even solutions to crises of air-pollution and waste. The real focus of the series, however, is to celebrate the inherent differences and diversity among this group of female innovators; across such broad spectrums as background, age, education, location and approach.

Removing barriers for female entrepreneurs

The aim of Innovate UK’s infocus women in innovation campaign and the premise of the series is to not only shine a much-needed spotlight on the UK’s most promising female entrepreneurs and future leaders but also to help directly address a key barrier to female entrepreneurship: limited access to relevant role models and identification with entrepreneurs as ‘women like me.’

Indeed, as mentioned earlier, the past two years have seen an extreme uplift in relevant search terms on Getty Images, though the diversity of content, the very core of how we define women in innovation hasn’t yet caught up. Furthermore, with only one in seven applications for Innovate UK business funding coming from women, the women in innovation exhibition will help to drive awareness of opportunities to apply for game-changing business funding, in turn, helping to pave the way for future, female-led, businesses.

Boosting the UK economy with female entrepreneurship

The wider economic impact of addressing this gender imbalance is significant. Research suggests that the proportion of UK women in entrepreneurial activity is around half the level of men and that if participation is increased to equal levels, women-led SMEs could potentially contribute a massive £180 billion GVA to the UK by 2025.

“Half of the world’s population is female. Research shows that harnessing the skills of female entrepreneurs would significantly enhance UK economic growth and improve the breadth of management teams,” says Dr. Ruth McKernan CBE and Chief Executive of Innovate UK. “One barrier identified from our own analysis is the relative lack of female role models. What better way to address this than to partner with Getty Images, the world’s leading image database and Amelia Troubridge, the world-renowned photographer, to showcase some amazing women? Let’s try to actively change the image of a female innovator in 2017 and inspire more to come forward with game-changing ideas.”

“For many years I have taken inspiration from women in the workplace, and I have sought to celebrate their achievements and contributions to society. We have in recent years been given more opportunities to celebrate women as thinkers, leaders and innovators outside of traditional roles; this project has been an opportunity to celebrate women who despite having the odds stacked against them, are steadfastly putting time and energy behind the creation of their ideas and dreams,” photographer Amelia Troubridge says.

“I wanted to capture the spirit of these women and contribute visually to the re-defining of who women are today; to step away from the disempowering imagery of women that dominates the mainstream that we have become accustomed to seeing. This is at the core of what I do as a photographer; to create a visual record of the times we live in, of women who have shown so much courage and commitment. I have been constantly challenged and inspired by women that I have met through my career as a photographer. This is the first time I have had the chance to work closely with women who are genuine innovators and playing an integral part in shaping a better world for us all.”

Jacqueline Bourke, senior manager of creative insights at Getty Images believes in the power of imagery to challenge our notions of what is normal. “Images have the power to move the world and drive true change, and diversity both in the frame and behind the lens is crucial in shining a light on those who are still too often unseen. As part of our ongoing commitment to changing perception and fostering compassion through our imagery, we’re committed to using the power of pictures to shift the conversation around female empowerment and gender equality, which makes it our great honour and privilege to partner with Innovate UK to help tear down entry barriers for female innovators and entrepreneurs,” she says.

“As evidenced by our global search trends, visual appetite for stories of female leadership is on the increase. We feel passionate about driving this redefinition and, like out 2017 trend Gritty Woman, helping to bring to the fore a woman who is tough, tenacious and not to be overlooked or underestimated. The more images and stories of female innovators are created and seen, the more quickly they are normalised. And as a result, the more sharply our shared humanity comes into focus to drive true change forward.”

Inspiring genuine long term change

Innovate UK believes that the most disruptive innovation can only occur when great and diverse minds meet and get access to proper support mechanisms to realise their ideas.  As part of the agency’s mission to inspire long term change, they are committed to raising both the profile of female innovators and ensuring they have the resources, business support and self-belief to turn their ideas into successful businesses.

Women in innovation 2017

Elena Dieckmann of Aeropowder Ltd
Elena Dieckmann of Aeropowder Ltd

Elena Dieckmann
Elena Dieckmann (pictured above, in her lab in Imperial College London) grew up in Nuremberg, Germany. And after a brief foray into the working world in international management in Russia and the Middle East, she returned to academia to study at the Dyson School of Design Engineering and the Royal College of Art. Mother to a young daughter, Dieckmann feels hyper-aware of the impact our society will have on future generations. It is this awareness that led her to co-found AEROPOWDER, a start-up turning waste feathers from the poultry industry into innovative materials.

With support from Innovate UK, AEROPOWDER’s feather-based products use a waste by-product in a novel way and are sustainable in creation, use and disposal.

Fanzi Down of DPS Designs Ltd
Fanzi Down of DPS Designs Ltd

Fanzi Down
Fanzi Down runs the confectionary division at DPS Designs and is a co-founder of Picnic for Peace, an initiative to promote tolerance and multiculturalism.
The innovations developed at DPS Designs are used in both chocolate moulds and aerospace tooling. Her current project is designing a method where chocolate moulds can be used in creating much more intricate products.

With the help of the funding from Innovate UK, DPS Designs plans to develop this technology further and commercialise it. She is pictured above, inside Hotel Chocolat, where her moulding techniques are put to work creating exquisite and intricate chocolates.

Shakar Jafari of True Invivo Ltd
Shakar Jafari of True Invivo Ltd

Shakar Jafari
Shakar Jafari was born in Afghanistan, but she and her family were forced to move following the outbreak of war and loss of their home when she was just 6 years old. After six months of travelling, they arrived in Iran as refugees. It was here that Jafari discovered her passion for nuclear physics, radiation and the science behind its medical applications.

This passion was truly put to the test when Jafari’s father was diagnosed with cancer. During the months before his death, she promised him that she would try to make a difference in the lives of other people with his condition. Jafari is now the founder and CTO of Trueinvivo Limited, which with support from Innovate UK has developed a radiation detection system for cancer care that aims to save lives, money and offer a better quality of life to patients. She is pictured above, at the University of Surrey where Jafari received her PhD in medical physics and is a visiting research fellow.

Carmen Hijosa of Ananas Anam UK Ltd
Carmen Hijosa of Ananas Anam UK Ltd

Carmen Hijosa
Carmen Hijosa began her life in Spain, but her career has taken her across the globe, including the UK, Ireland, Germany and the Philippines. Having specialised in the design and manufacture of leather goods, Hijosa discovered that she could make a non-woven textile – a fabric bonded together without knitting or weaving – from the long fibres in pineapple leaves. Her work resulted in the creation of Piñatex, a unique, natural and sustainable textile made from pineapple leaf fibres.

With the help of Innovate UK, Piñatex is now entering into a new R&D phase to upgrade the product in order to be ready to enter into more stringent markets such as furnishing and automotive.

Hijosa is pictured above, on her ‘desk chair’ at the Royal College of Art, where she’s developing a new sustainable and biodegradable material made of pineapple leaf fibres.

Pai Natwilai Utoomprurkporn of Gettrik Ltd
Pai Natwilai Utoomprurkporn of Gettrik Ltd

Pae Natwilai Utoomprurkporn
Pae Natwilai Utoomprurkporn grew up and studied in Bangkok before receiving a scholarship to study global innovation design at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. This is where her fascination with drones began, and the seed was planted for her start-up, TRIK.

Utoomprurkporn describes TRIK as ‘Google Maps for large structure inspection’ where drones are used to scan structures and create interactive 3D maps. Manual inspection using traditional scaffolding or rope access takes days or weeks to complete and can cost thousands of pounds. With Innovate UK’s funding and support, TRIK is developing software that allows this process to be completed in a few hours, at a fraction of the cost. Utoomprurkporn is pictured inside the Enterprise Lab, a hub for innovative start-ups at Imperial College London.

Pauline Dawes of SOMI Trailers Ltd
Pauline Dawes of SOMI Trailers Ltd

Pauline Dawes
After leaving school at 15, Pauline Dawes went on to study at the University of Cambridge and graduate with an MBA. Following her studies, she began working in transport and engineering. Here, she quickly climbed to the top of this male-dominated sector. As managing director of SOMI Trailers, Dawes has drawn on her 10 years of professional experience to inform her innovation; leading the development of a trailer body that uses the space underneath trucks to transport greater loads with every journey. This could lead to a saving of 10,000 truck journeys a day in the UK alone.

The training and support provided by Innovate UK have accelerated SOMI’s progress, enabling them to raise their profile to an international level. Dawes is pictured in a café opposite one of London’s arterial roads, the Westway.

Rebecca Street
Rebecca Street

Rebecca Street
Rebecca Street is an established bridal designer, coupled with design technician for luxury design houses, including Alexander McQueen and Mulberry, with whom she’s fitted clothes for celebrities like Kate Moss and Keira Knightly.

She is known for her sculpting skills, her technical knowledge of textiles and construction, and for pushing boundaries in the area of wearable technology. Street’s focus now is on her technique for applying precious metals to fabrics, which are washable; the immediate application for this is luxury fashion, yet with Innovate UK’s ongoing support, the additional implications of this technology range from medical devices to printed electronic circuits.

Street is pictured with one of her own dresses, outside Imperial College London’s physics labs.

Jenna Bowen of Cotton Mouton Diagnostics Ltd

Jenna Bowen
Since completing her PhD at Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2011, Jenna Bowen has focused on making real the notion of precision medicine. She is developing smarter diagnostic technology to help the medical sector deliver bespoke, personalised treatments for every patient. With healthcare resources under huge pressure, the need for this kind of smart approach to disease management grows day by day. With support from Innovate UK, Bowen’s innovation will enable critical information to be received by healthcare professionals in under 15 minutes, to support quick and accurate diagnosis and treatment. Bowen is pictured in her lab at CMD in Cardiff.

Donna Lyndsey Earth Sense Systems Ltd
Donna Lyndsey Earth Sense Systems Ltd

Donna Lyndsay
Donna Lyndsay wears many hats; she’s a busy working mum, a school governor, business consultant, a geospatial data specialist – and now an innovator. As the commercial director of EarthSense, Lyndsay has applied her 22 years’ experience in the geographic information industry to commercialise the University of Leicester’s most promising air quality monitoring research. With support from Innovate UK, EarthSense provides technology for the measurement and modelling of air quality across the UK, to inform real-time decisions on how to ensure everyone can breathe clean air.

Lyndsay is pictured near her home in Exmoor, surrounded by the clean air that inspires her work.

Fiona Marston of Absynth Biologics Ltd
Fiona Marston of Absynth Biologics Ltd

Fiona Marston
Fiona Marston, a passionate innovator in all aspects of her life, was inspired to follow a career in medical research by her mother’s battle with a rare degenerative illness. If she were here, her mother would say that she was born self-motivated. It’s what’s driven her 25 years’ experience in healthcare, biotechnology and venture capital, and on to become CEO of Absynth Biologics, an organisation that addresses people’s growing immunity to antibiotics.

The strategic support Marston has received through Innovate UK’s infocus women in innovation initiative is already having a positive effect on Absynth, and competitive grants have enabled the team to further support their focus on R&D. She is pictured within The Biohub at Alderley Park in Cheshire, where her lab is located.

Carolyn Pearson of Maiden Voyage Ltd
Carolyn Pearson of Maiden Voyage Ltd

Carolyn Pearson
Having left school with only a handful of qualifications, Carolyn Pearson’s passion for learning only really started when she took up part-time studies during her twenties. She achieved BAs in business and IT and an MBA with distinction, before completing the Cranfield School of Management’s Advanced Development Programme in Leadership. After heading up tech teams within Sony, KLM and the BBC, Pearson founded Maiden-voyage.com, a private social network through which professional women can connect when travelling on business.

With support from Innovate UK, she has built an 11,000-strong community in over 100 countries and, in doing so, helped ensure the safety of women travellers all over the world. Pearson is shown in Leeds, the city where Maiden Voyage is based and just one of the many locations where the company has accredited female-friendly hotels.

IUK Anna Hill of River Cycleway Consortium

Anna Hill
Anna Hill is an artist, designer, innovator and entrepreneur. She’s motivated by the constructive, creative use of space technology and how it can solve some of our biggest environmental problems. As the co-founder of the River Cycleway Consortium Ltd, Hill is responsible for the Thames Deckway, a floating cycle and pedestrian path.

During her time living close to the river in Rotherhithe, Hill was inspired by the Thames and how greater use of the river could help London to deal with its growing congestion, pollution and cycling safety issues. With support from Innovate UK, floating cycle-paths will create a unique high-impact civil engineering project for smart cities that aims to provide safe, green transport infrastructure. Hill is pictured in a spacesuit, in front of her ultimate inspiration; the planet.

Group shot of the The Innovate UK Ambassadors
The Innovate UK Ambassadors

The ambassadors
Innovate UK’s infocus women in innovation campaign has been supported by a cohort of high-profile ambassadors. These are experts in innovation, business development, finance and people management – and generous providers of support and mentorship to our female innovators. Pictured here (from left to right) are: Barbara Domayne-Hayman, Chief Business Officer, Autifony Therapeutics; Naomi Weir, Deputy Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering; Fiona Marshall, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Heptares Therapeutics; Ruth McKernan CBE, Chief Executive, Innovate UK; Sara Bell, Founder and CEO, Tempus Energy; Jenny Tooth OBE, CEO, UK Business Angels Association.

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