Otis Baker

Undergraduate students and women  applied in increasing numbers for this year’s Yale Entrepreneurial Institute summer fellowship, sparking optimism in Yale’s entrepreneurial community that the change signals growing diversity in a typically male-dominated field.

The proportion of applications from women to the 10-week intensive program increased from 21 to 31 percent this past year. Undergraduate applications comprised 43.2 percent of submissions, compared to 38 percent last year. In total, YEI received applications from 118 individuals across 43 teams. Ten teams will ultimately receive the fellowship, which includes $15,000 worth of funding intended to support young businesses as well as an opportunity to work in New Haven over the summer. Erika Smith, who is in charge of graduate and faculty programs and investments at YEI, said the change may be the product of several efforts by the YEI to increase diversity.

“Women represent just 12 percent of U.S. innovators but are receiving higher education degrees at a higher rate than men,” she said. “YEI is very interested in developing more interest from women in entrepreneurship, and we have taken an active role in encouraging participation in our programs.”

Smith noted recent initiatives, including the expansion of the YEI Mentor Network of alumni advisors under the recent appointment of Mentor Director Priscila Bala ’06 SOM ’14. YEI has also highlighted successful female entrepreneurs on its website and launched new social venture programs such as the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation, she added.

Wendy Davis SOM ’14, who founded the medical technology startup GestVision and who has previously received YEI funding, said she thinks diversity and gender inclusivity are instrumental to entrepreneurship.

“Without women, we’re missing half of the tool set to be successful,” she said.

Ellen Su ’13, co-founder of wearable health technology company Wellinks, applauded the sustained support her company has received from YEI even after her 2014 summer fellowship ended. She said her company has continued to operate out of the YEI space, and that the institute provides “connections to great opportunities.”

Tess Maggio ‘16, a member of one of YEI’s few all-female startups, said she hopes that women getting involved in entrepreneurship focus on products or services they want to create, rather than “viewing successes or failures in a gender-based light.”

Still, despite increasing racial and gender diversity in startups, other areas of entrepreneurship are seeing slower growth. Su said she believes investment groups exhibit the least diversity, although she said she is increasingly surprised when she sees groups composed exclusively of white men.

Smith said YEI, which is usually dominated by the projects of graduate and professional school students, is also interested in recruiting more heavily from the undergraduate community. She said a survey of the class of 2019 showed 22 percent of students identifying business and entrepreneurship as one of their top areas of interest.

According to Davis, YEI provides a place where the entrepreneurial activities of all of Yale’s communities can intersect.

“Entrepreneurs provide innovations that disrupt and impact the world,” Smith said. “We need to have everyone engaged.”

The final 10 teams selected for this year’s fellowship will be announced this week.