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Female Founders Summit shows how STEM education helps lead to diversity

For a more diverse tech industry, we need to look toward STEM education.

Recently, I was asked to deliver the keynote at our first-ever Qualcomm Ventures Female Founders Summit. It was an easy “yes” for many reasons.

The event gathered women with innovative solutions to pressing problems who, because of their gender, aren’t always afforded the same opportunity to advance their businesses. It was an important initiative not just because of what the event is doing, but also the message it’s sending. At its core, the Female Founders Summit is a call to empower women and create more diversity in what’s typically been a male-led industry. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s shining a light on the importance of STEM and how it can help improve the pipeline for more female founders. These women inventors are the goal of STEM and proof that the needle is moving.

The Summit’s participating startups are exactly what Qualcomm seeks to encourage and help thrive in the Invention Age, a new era when breakthrough technologies are transforming industries and removing barriers to innovation. We’re a company founded on and driven by invention, but  the potential for invention and innovation is greatly limited without STEM education, diversity, and the guarantee that anyone with a bright idea has the fair chance to bring it to life.

Qualcomm has a long history of supporting STEM through programs like Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab, FIRST Robotics, and Qcamps. Not only do they foster STEM education, but they encourage diverse skills, backgrounds, and cultures in the next generation of inventors. My hope is that the Summit, which Qualcomm anticipates making a recurring event, will have that same kind of impact — on girls and women of all ages.

The inaugural Female Founders Summit

In addition to the 10 impressive female-founded startups invited to participate in the event, the room was filled with venture capitalists, industry leaders, and several of my Qualcomm colleagues, including Executive Vice President of Human Resources Michelle Sterling and Executive Vice President of Strategy, M&A, and Venture Investments Brian Modoff. All of us were gathered with the purpose of nurturing connections and sharing opportunities.

In his opening remarks, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Qualcomm Ventures, at Qualcomm Technologies, Quinn Li said that what’s most exciting about being a part of the company is the opportunity we have to see the breadth of new innovations and ideas that exist, and to interact with highly talented and motivated founders who are set to change the world. I couldn’t agree more.

The event also encouraged some friendly competition — my favorite part of the Summit. The founders were invited to pitch their business plans to an audience and a panel of judges. The grand prize was an investment of $500,000 and the opportunity to join Qualcomm Ventures’ portfolio of companies, a valuable connection that provides greater access to Qualcomm’s resources and expertise, and a network of partners.

When selecting the participating startups, we looked for companies that specialize in a variety of technologies, including artificial intelligence, IoT, mobile technology, autonomous vehicles, and AR and VR. These are technologies that, with new ideas, can launch use use cases we have yet to imagine.

And the winner is...

After listening to 10 inspiring pitches, we chose Blue Canoe Learning as the first-ever winner of the Qualcomm Ventures Female Founders Summit. The startup, founded by Sarah Daniels and Tony Andrews, is committed to helping over one billion non-native English speakers around the world improve the pronunciation of their spoken English, in order to speak more clearly and confidently — a noble cause that we’re sure will transform many lives.

Their team developed an AI-powered mobile app that acts as a virtual ESL teacher, using a proven methodology based on brain research, patent-pending speech recognition, and machine learning technologies. In her acceptance speech, Sarah mentioned that with every line of code her team writes, they ask themselves, “Is this going to make a difference?” That kind of purpose can have a profound impact. It’s something we ask ourselves here at Qualcomm every day.

Given the success and importance of our first Female Founders Summit, I’m incredibly pleased that the company is planning to make this an recurring event. Having a forum for women inventors, leaders, and entrepreneurs to showcase technologies of the near future is vital, especially at this point in time. But in order for there to be diversity in the tech industry, we need to start with STEM education. Nurturing a curiosity for STEM will help build the pipeline for future female founders who will introduce new, fresh ideas in the world.

I’m honored to have had a chance to meet the founders at this year’s Female Founders Summit. They represent the future of STEM, diversity, and creativity, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll push the Invention Age forward.

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