Women in Entrepreneurship Institute at DePaul University integrates academic learning, research with incubation, funding

New institute aims to increase women-led businesses

Abigail Ingram
DePaul University's Women in Entrepreneurship Institute aims to position women-owned businesses for success, with access to funding, leadership training, public policy work or mentoring, says Abigail Ingram, director of the institute. (DePaul University/Kathy Hillegonds)
CHICAGO — Despite owning 38 percent of businesses in the U.S., women entrepreneurs received just 2 percent of venture capital funding in 2017, according to a report by Pitchbook, a venture capital, private equity and mergers and acquisitions database.

DePaul University established the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute recently in part to address this discrepancy.

“Women entrepreneurs tend to face obstacles such as securing financing, gender bias, lack of confidence, limited mentorship opportunities, and lack of training to see their ideas to fruition,” said Abigail Ingram, director of the institute in DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business. “Our goal is to position women-owned businesses for success, with access to funding, leadership training, public policy work or mentoring.”

The Women in Entrepreneurship Institute is designed to uncover roadblocks for women seeking funding and prepare women to pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists and angel investors. It will focus on accelerating and incubating businesses that could be funded.

Believed to be the first comprehensive women’s entrepreneurship institute in higher education, DePaul’s institute will integrate academic learning, research, incubation, funding and public policy with the goal to position women-owned businesses for success.

The institute is creating an academic course about women entrepreneurs that will begin in the spring quarter, and has plans for a business accelerator class 
— called Acceler8her​ 
— which will run from April 8 to June 7, according to Ingram. The classes will be folded into DePaul’s entrepreneur program, which was recently ranked No. 13 for its undergraduate program and No. 20 for its graduate program in Princeton Review’s annual “Top Schools for Entrepreneurship.”

“I’m very excited to teach the first women entrepreneurs class in the spring quarter,” said Alyssa Westring, an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship in the Driehaus College of Business. “I want the students to leave the class understanding the unique challenges facing women entrepreneurs and feeling empowered to overcome those challenges.”

During its first year, the institute will design and begin testing a new model of business acceleration aimed to reduce attrition of female students. Meanwhile, faculty will begin research to identify actionable measures to increase women’s success in entrepreneurship.

“There’s no shortage of advice for women in terms of how to advance their careers or start their own businesses,” said Westring. “The challenge is weeding through all of that advice to find out what really works. By bringing research into the conversation, we can develop evidence-based tools to support women founders. 

“Not only will the institute help women entrepreneurs themselves, it will take a hard look at the entrepreneurial environment and how we can develop systems and policies that level the playing field," Westring said.

Over the last several months, the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute has organized a committee of directors comprised of 40 women entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders and influencers from Chicago and around the U.S. The board supports the institute through funding, strategic planning, and advancing the institute’s academic, research, start-up incubation and public policy initiatives.

“When I started my business and encountered issues with banks, landlords and even potential employees, I thought the problem was me,” said Joan Hannant, CEO of the Soma Institute and board member for the institute. “I never thought that the problem might be systematic discrimination. I do not want any future female founder to go through what I experienced as I launched my business. The mission of the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute is so personal to me as I see it as a vehicle to provide support, programming and funding to help female founders succeed.”

Additional information on the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute is online at

Abigail Ingram

Alyssa Westring

Media Contact:
Russell Dorn