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Femtech competition creates solutions for women’s issues

UH’s fourth annual Femtech(+) Innovation Challenge allowed teams of students to conceptualize and pitch their ideas for business solutions to female issues last week.| Photo courtesy of Liana Gonzalez.

UH’s fourth annual Femtech(+) Innovation Challenge allowed teams of students to conceptualize and pitch their ideas for business solutions to female issues last week.

The final round of this hackathon hosted by the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship took place from Nov. 4-8, with participants learning about various problems uniquely faced by women and ultimately presenting to judges in the hopes of winning cash prizes.

The competition was started with the goal of involving more women in entrepreneurship hackathons on campus, according to RED Labs director and event organizer Liana Gonzalez. Once the focus narrowed to Femtech, many more females began to participate.

“We were talking about ways to get more women involved in our programming,” Gonzalez said. “The issue is how you engage women in innovation in a way that they’re excited about.”

Online applications for the first round took place toward the middle and end of October. Participants wrote about their interest in and skills for the challenge, and specific applicants were selected for the final round.

The first two days of the final round introduced participants to Femtech, customer discovery, innovation and pitch basics among other topics.

Grasping these fundamentals was important because many competitors had never been exposed to entrepreneurship before, Gonzalez said.

The next two days were designed for students to get as much mentorship and feedback as needed while they put together their slides and practiced their pitches.

“I really like how it prepares you for the real world because half of your ideas are not good, and people will tell you that,” said chemical engineering junior Aufstin Filiko. “It’s very humbling but very effective. I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

The winning team shared the idea of Swift Strap, a device that can be attached to bras for easy latching and unlatching, which can be especially helpful for older women and others with low dexterity.

“I thought it was really interesting to think of the problems I have as a woman and try to solve them myself,” said one of the team members, civil engineering junior Esmailyn Aybar. “I had a first-person point of view on it.”

Second place went to the team that devised mROOTS, or research-backed supplements to help manage menopausal symptoms.

Team members included Filiko, honors biomedical sciences junior Mariam Dumitrascu and biology junior Vyshnavi Davuluri, who found out about the competition through various mailing lists and student organizations.

The various panels from the beginning of the hackathon helped the team grasp the inequality of medical research for men and women, according to Davuluri.

“They talked about how for a lot of research, it’s not as applicable to women because they focus more on men as their subjects,” Davuluri said. “So it was really interesting and eye-opening.”

Finally, the third-place team pitched Pockies, which are removable pockets that can be attached to jeans. These would allow women to hold their phones, keys and wallets since women’s clothing typically lacks deep pockets.

Asides from learning about and working to improve gender equity, competitors expressed appreciation for collaborating and innovating in groups.

“I envision this experience helping my later career by helping me think outside the box more and by training me to better deal with people,” Aybar said. “It’s not just me, it’s a team.”

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