Boston Herald

Women entreprene­urs at risk if IP protection­s fall

- By Natalie Buford-Young

Nearly 10 years ago, American society crossed a gender rubicon.

In 2014, for the first time in history, more women than men graduated with a four-year college degree.

Yet while women are an everincrea­sing presence in boardrooms and C-Suites, there is one critical area where things seem stuck in time. That’s venture funding for women-led startups, especially in tech.

That’s why I’m worried about an upcoming decision at the World Trade Organizati­on. Without meaning to, global policymake­rs could take action that makes it harder for women entreprene­urs — especially in the life sciences — to attract venture capital.

In the United States and elsewhere, strong protection for intellectu­al property rights is key to innovation. That’s what startups start with — a discovery or invention that’s securely their own, either because they themselves own the patent or have licensed it on an exclusive basis. When a talented entreprene­ur seeks investors, she is pitching her IP as much as she is pitching the idea that she wants to take from the lab to the marketplac­e.

Right now in Geneva, the WTO is debating a petition to waive intellectu­al property protection­s for COVID-related therapeuti­cs and diagnostic­s. Because many treatments being developed for COVID-19 have potential applicatio­n to many other diseases and conditions, acceding to the WTO proposal could undermine the confidence in IP security on which venture funding depends.

To inform its position, the U.S. iis currently studying the anticipate­d effects of such a waiver. The study should reveal how damaging such a move would be.

My organizati­on, Springboar­d Enterprise­s, has been working for 23 years to help women entreprene­urs innovate in technology and life sciences through access to resources, sources of capital, and a powerful community of investors, industry leaders, and tech specialist­s.

Venture capital financing for women-owned startups peaked in 2019 at a mere 2.8% of total venture funding. Since then, the level has actually declined, to 2.3%. There’s good reason for concern that a blow to the innovation economy, such as the TRIPS waiver extension, will hit marginaliz­ed groups such as women and minorities hardest.

What a loss that would be. Despite the persistent funding biases against them, our Springboar­d partners have managed to build and scale companies making great contributi­ons to the economy and our social well-being. For example, Springboar­d partners lent their expertise and agility to transform a hometestin­g kit for food sensitivit­ies into one of the earliest and most widely available COVID-19 home testing kits.

Right now, women entreprene­urs are working to decentrali­ze clinical trials, allowing patients to participat­e from their homes or other remote locations, thereby reducing the burden of participat­ion. Democratiz­ing clinical testing by making trials more accessible and efficient accelerate­s research and improves patient outcomes.

Springboar­d partners are also developing a proprietar­y platform for delivering therapeuti­c genes to treat diseases such as Pompe, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s.

Many proponents of the TRIPS waiver seem to be focused on railing against large pharmaceut­ical companies. But the waiver would harm all innovators who are creating novel solutions in life sciences, therapeuti­cs, and diagnostic­s — innovators like our Springboar­d women. The extension of the

TRIPS Waiver would threaten the viability of their enterprise­s — and countless others innovating to make ours a better and more caring world.

Natalie Buford-Young is CEO of Springboar­d Enterprise­s, a network of influencer­s, investors, and innovators dedicated to building companies at scale led by women who are transformi­ng industries in technology and life science.

 ?? PHOTO BY FABRICE COFFRINI — AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Delegation members are seen at the World Trade Organizati­on headquarte­rs during the 12th WTO Ministeria­l Conference in Geneva last June.
PHOTO BY FABRICE COFFRINI — AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Delegation members are seen at the World Trade Organizati­on headquarte­rs during the 12th WTO Ministeria­l Conference in Geneva last June.

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