Commission announces new initiatives to support women in science and innovation

21 Mar 2024 | News

Awarding the Women Innovators prize this week, research commissioner Iliana Ivanova unveiled a series of initiatives to encourage more women and girls to pursue research careers  


Iliana Ivanova, commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, during the Women Innovators prize ceremony on Monday. Photo credits: European Innovation Council team / European Union

Research commissioner Iliana Ivanova announced new initiatives to boost women’s participation in research and innovation as she awarded the 2024 Women Innovators prize at the opening of the annual R&I week in Brussels.

Women Tech EU will support start-ups founded and led by women, with a commitment of €15 million over two years. The scheme provides coaching and mentorship for women entrepreneurs, alongside funding to support them during the first steps of the innovation process and to propel companies forward. 

Ivanova also announced the fourth edition of the EIC Women leadership programme, which aims to enhance the skills of female entrepreneurs, upgrade infrastructure, and offer guidance, mentoring, and coaching.

Speaking to Science|Business, Ivanova also referenced related schemes. “Iinitiatives like Girls Go Circular, free online training provided to young girls from 14 to 19 years old, are a way of incentivising girls to enter STEM subjects. So these are just a few of the things that we are working very hard to simulate," she said.

There is plenty of room for improvement given only 14.8% of start-up founders are female, according to the European Institute for Innovation & Technology.

The Women Innovators prize is run jointly by the European Innovation Council, the SMEs Executive Agency and the European Institute for Innovation & Technology.

Making the awards Ivanova told the ten finalists “[Your] groundbreaking ideas, passion, and determination inspire us all and remind us of the importance of fostering gender balance in Europe's innovation landscape.”

For award winner Rana Sanyal, chief scientific officer and co-founder of RS Research, a clinical-stage biotechnology start-up developing targeted chemotherapy, the prize is not just a personal achievement. "It's a beacon of hope and encouragement for the future generations of female scientists, urging them to step forward and continue the legacy of innovation,” she said.

The prizes include a personal grant ranging from €20,000 to €100,000 for the winners and runners-up.

That was a surprise “in a good way” for another winner, Yuliia Bialetska, CE and co-founder of S.Lab, which develops sustainable and biodegradable alternatives to plastic foam packaging. "I have two daughters, and I know how important it is to get the proper education. So I want to put that money into their bank accounts, and for them to be able to get a great education."

Since the initiative started in 2011, the number of applications for the prize has steadily increased year after year.

Number of applicants to the Women Innovators prize through the years. Source: European Innovation Council

Ivanova told Science | Business that the prize is intended to boost women's participation in R&I, providing a financial stimulus, visibility, promoting women's achievements in research and innovation.

Creating markets

Another winner, María González Manso, CEO and co-founder of tucuvi, which has a clinically validated chat bot for use in healthcare, called for support to be sustained across the piece from early stage development to market.

"Hospital systems don't have the ways to buy this type of technology, because it's so new. So we not only need to innovate in the knowledge side, but also in the procurement side," she told Science|Business.

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