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BioSTL Launches Effort To Bring More Minorities And Women Into Biosciences

Courtesy of Cortex

BioSTL is launching a variety of programs to bring more women and minorities into the field of biosciences. 

The group received a $100,000 donation earlier this year from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Some of that money is being used to expand the St. Louis Bioscience Inclusion Initiative, which started in the late 2000s.

BioSTL executive director Donn Rubin said the programs want to build “awareness and cast a wide net among those who might have entrepreneurial aspirations, but just don’t know how to get started or where to plug in.”

“People are an incredibly important element to the success of a region and an innovation-based economy,” Rubin said. “And this initiative is aimed at broadening the base of people who are involved and who can contribute to the ecosystem, to contribute to economic growth.”

BioSTL is hosting an event at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Danforth Plant Sciences Center.Cheryl Watkins-Moore, an entrepreneur in residence at BioSTL, said the event will also put potential entrepreneurs in touch with biosciences professionals.

“If you’re not of this entrepreneurial ecosystem, you might not be aware of the different types of resources and the opportunities that are available,” Watkins-Moore said. “Given this awareness program and the ability to provide some networking and resource support, you only increase the innovation within your community. Because you’re including all people in this opportunity.”

Watkins-Moore said potential entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have to have a science background to break into the biosciences field. She said bioscience start-ups “need all types of functional skills that are found in other companies,” including people with expertise in human relations, bookkeeping and marketing.

And later in the year, she said the initiative is planning a “boot camp” to help people navigate the biosciences field.

“At the end of that 10 weeks, we are going to have a business plan pitch competition where we set aside some prize money for those individuals representing women or underrepresented minority groups that win this competition,” Watkins-Moore said. “They get seed money to go ahead and at least get started on their business. And with the understanding that taking this seed money means that you get further into our ecosystem to look at further resources to develop your business from the funding community — as well as other resources as well.” 

Rubin is hoping that his group’s inclusion initiative spreads to other parts of St. Louis’ “innovation community,” including companies in the plant sciences and medical technology field. 

And Watkins-Moore is hoping to expand the initiative in the next few years, including engaging high schoolers about taking an interest in the biosciences.

“Most people think of the traditional chemist, the traditional researcher, the traditional engineer,” she said. “Now you have biomedical engineering. You have nontraditional careers that are coming out of traditional careers. And bioscience is changing so rapidly that if you don’t have that basis of understanding of the opportunities, it’s more than likely you’re not going to engage it in later on.” 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.