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Ashmore: Putting a bow on the Women of Innovation Awards


When you think of an inspiring innovative person, who comes to mind? Did a name come to you quickly or did you have to first think through what makes a person innovative? Is it someone who invented something new or found a creative solution to a difficult challenge?

The most common responses I get to this question are Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Thomas Edison. I think most people would agree that they are good examples of innovative people, but I have to wonder why a female is rarely first to mind?

Women in Innovation Awards
Sondra Ashmore.

It is impossible for me to believe that half of the population lacks innovative traits, or that women have had no part in the disruptions that have happened over the last century. I wonder if it could it be how the accomplishments of women are presented in our culture. When they develop, for example, cancer-fighting drugs are they portrayed as “helpful” or “innovative”? Are their contributions getting the publicity they deserve?

In 2007, the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) decided to take action and bring awareness to female innovators in Iowa. Their mission was to highlight the women in Iowa who were making a difference in STEM fields. They did so by hosting a state-wide awards ceremony called The Women of Innovation. Women of Innovation award categories range from Academic Research and Innovation to Rising Stars and Entrepreneurial Innovation and Leadership. With an eye to the future, Women of Innovation included categories for high school and collegiate innovators that contribute $2500 toward their continued education.

Women of Innovation has also partnered with the Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program. DigiGirlz invites high school girls from across the state come together on the day of the event to learn about STEM careers. They are paired with adult mentors and then attend the Women of Innovation awards ceremony.

This year’s Women of Innovation event marked the tenth anniversary of TAI recognizing women for their outstanding accomplishments. In one of the most moving moments of the night, the crowd stood and cheered as 14 high school girls were recognized for being innovators and leaders.

The number of nominations in this category has grown significantly each year – a testament to the fact that WOI is not only bringing awareness to female innovators, but it is also inspiring the next generation.

This was the seventh year I had attended the WOI ceremony and I was again struck by the amazing talent in Iowa.

After many years of being a part of Women of Innovation. I can no longer think of one person when someone asks me who inspires me as an innovator because I see the entire Women of Innovation community.

We are a state filled with women cure-finders, inventors, researchers, thought leaders, and world-changers.

And most importantly, we celebrate these successes.

Sondra Ashmore is a Business Partner at W.R Berkley in Urbandale. 

Previous coverage…

Women of Innovation Awards celebrate women in STEM – Nov. 14, 2017

From the editor: A week of coverage dedicated to the women of Iowa – Nov. 13, 2017

Ashmore: Putting a bow on the Women of Innovation Awards | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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