By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Herald.
The typical startup accelerator is technology focused and the company founders it chooses are overwhelmingly male. Babson College wants to change that.
Babson’s Women Innovating Now Lab, known as the WIN Lab, is designed to help women entrepreneurs launch successful businesses. The accelerator-like program offers training sessions and connects women entrepreneurs to a wide range of experts for guidance. It also provides access to strategic networks and co-working space so participants can build and expand their ventures.
The WIN Lab will receive $800,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of a three-year grant to launch WIN Lab in Miami, The first cohort will begin this fall.
Babson, well known for its acclaimed business and entrepreneurship programs, is no stranger to South Florida. The WIN Lab in Miami is part of the college’s growing presence in the region, which includes one of the university’s most active alumni networks with 1,300 Miami-based alums, an advisory role at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and its connection to Miami Dade College as the academic architect of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. This will be the first WIN Lab outside of Boston, and the organization is planning to expand to other cities.
The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson launched the WIN Lab in Boston in October 2013. It has been designated as one of the top two “specialty” programs for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship; earned BostInno’s designation as one of Boston’s “50 on Fire” innovators and visionaries; and was honored by the prestigious Rosoff Awards for diversity.
Susan Duffy, executive director at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, said she and her co-founder are entrepreneurs and always had the idea that it was time to disrupt the accelerator model. Even in Babson’s own entrepreneurial programs, the gender imbalance was there.
“Accelerators around the country have less than 13 percent women, and Babson was courageous to say we can do more,” said Duffy in a phone interview. “It is really important to begin to tap into the entrepreneurial potential of both men and women. When it comes to venture acceleration, one size doesn’t fit all.”
At the event, Duffy said that Miami ranks in the top five metro areas for the highest rate of women business areas but also ranks in the bottom five metro areas when it comes to women entrepreneurs’ economic clout, a measure that combines the number of women-owned businesses, their revenues and employment numbers. “Women-owned businesses in Miami are not scaling up. Some would look at that as a problem, we look at that as an opportunity.”
In addition to being for females, Duffy said the WIN Lab will be different from other accelerators in that it will be sector agnostic rather than focused solely on tech and it will be a yearlong program rather than compressed into three months. WIN Lab will be focused on building competent confident CEOs with programing full of female role models as well as coaches and experts of both genders, she said.
Since launching WIN Lab in Boston, Babson has seen dramatically increased female participation in its rocket pitch contests, its Beta competitions and its summer venture programs. “We have the numbers to prove that what we are doing is having an impact,” said Duffy. “It changes the understanding of what is possible.”
Babson President Kerry Healey and Matt Haggman, the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, announced the launch of WIN LAB in Miami Thursday at a Babson College event held at MBAF in downtown Miami. “This is a first-of-its-kind program designed by women entrepreneurs to support women entrepreneurs,” said Healey at the event. “We’re honored to be a part of the [Knight] Foundation’s mission here … to make Miami a place where ideas are built.”
Never has there been a time when entrepreneurs can solve such big important problems as now, said Haggman. In creating an ecosystem, “this really has be about all of Miami. WIN Lab is the next step in this,” he said. “We can’t wait to see the impact this will create.”
Babson anticipates kicking off its Miami launch with a community event in March and then recruiting 20 WIN Lab Miami participants for the first cohort. The WIN Lab, which will be free for participants, is expected to officially launch in the fall. In the coming weeks, Babson will hire a director to head the program in Miami, secure a location for the WIN Lab and establish a regional advisory board comprised of local investors, women entrepreneurs, experts and coaches.
Over the past 3 1/2 years, Knight has committed about $20 million to more than 165 projects in entrepreneurship in South Florida and has been increasing its investments in programs such as Babson’s that aim to accelerate diversity. For more information about WIN Lab, visit babson.edu/WINLab.