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Celebrating UW women innovators

Written by François Baneyx / March 30, 2021

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Dear friends of CoMotion,

In 1854, Arthur Denny, a representative of the Washington Territorial Legislature, proposed that a pending voting bill be amended to allow “all white females over the age of 18 years” to vote. A single nay defeated his proposal, and it took 56 years for the State Constitution to be amended to grant all women the right to vote. It would take another decade for every woman in the United States to be granted this right.

Fast forward to the present day. The U.S. Vice President is a Black American and Asian American woman, and Washington State’s two women U.S Senators chair some of the most powerful Committees in the nation. In the entrepreneurial world, however, both power and opportunities remain appallingly lopsided. Consider these numbers: in 2020, women-led startup companies received a minuscule 2.3% of available venture capital, down from an all-time high of 2.8% in 2019; just 42% of tech startups include a woman in their C-suite or on their Board of Directors, and women only make up 14.2% of the decision-makers in venture capital firms across the country.

In what we typically consider a progressive corner of the nation, we do not fare much better. Among Pacific Northwest startups that raised money in 2019, only 18.7% were run by women and a mere 9.6% were led by minority CEOs! Compounding the problem, 72% of the decision-makers in Seattle area VC firms are male, perpetuating a lack of interest or enthusiasm for technologies that serve segments of the population they do not relate to or adequately represent.

For years, the University of Washington has been on a quest to better serve all learners in our state by building diversity within student, staff, and professorial ranks. Equity has long been a focus of President Ana Mari Cauce, who recently stated that “fostering diversity, inclusion, equity and representation is not an act of charity—it is a strategy for survival.” At CoMotion, where three-quarters of our team is female, we are proud to have helped extraordinary women launch extraordinary ventures (some recent examples are listed below). And yet, too few women and too few members of the BIPOC community follow this path for reasons that range from lack of awareness and socio-cultural restrictions to lack of training and financial or fundraising challenges.

From the long arc of women’s voting rights, we have learned that gains are fragile and that meaningful progress requires sustained attention. In a month of celebrating women and their history, and with financial support from the Washington Research Foundation and the Economic Development Administration’s University Center program, CoMotion will soon launch a new initiative to help women researchers at the University of Washington bring their ideas to life more quickly. Called RAISE (Researchers & Academic Innovators Success in Entrepreneurship), the program will elevate entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest region with tailored training and mentorship. By bringing together female mentors, highlighting women-led startups, and creating a cohesive network of innovators, CoMotion will continue to help ensure that the innovation journey can be traveled by everyone. We also look forward to partnering with our economic development community and supporters to address the challenges that women and minority entrepreneurs face when launching new startups because one thing is clear: innovation driven by diverse minds delivers more inclusive benefits to all.

Be well,

Signature of Francois Baneyx

François Baneyx
UW Vice Provost for Innovation and Director of CoMotion

Lori Arakaki, PhD


Co-founder and CEO of Opticyte, a medical device company that is developing non-invasive technology to detect oxygen levels at the cellular level.

Valerie Daggett, PhD


Founder and CEO of AltPep, a Seattle-based biotech startup developing tools and treatments for a variety of diseases including Alzheimer’s. Currently focused on developing tools that can detect the disease before the patient is symptomatic.

Nora Disis, MD


Scientific Founder of EpiThany which consolidated the discovery technology and clinical-stage assets of the UW Tumor Vaccine Group, and develops therapeutic vaccines to target tumor antigens across an array of cancers.

Sharon Doty, PhD

Plant Microbiology Lab

In her Plant Microbiology Lab, leads the development of microbes that can inoculate plants for specific purposes, such as improving growth or the ability to remove pollutants from the environment.

Deborah Fuller, PhD

Fuller Lab

Vaccinologist and professor of microbiology at UW, her work spans therapeutic areas such as malaria, hepatitis B, HIV, and influenza. She and her team are working to develop a second generation vaccine candidate for COVID-19.

Gail E. Joseph, PhD

EarlyEdU Alliance

Founding director of the EarlyEdU Alliance, a partnership to help teachers succeed through high-quality degree programs and multimedia resources for early learning across the country.

Jennifer Stuber, PhD

All Patients Safe

Co-founder of Forefront Suicide Prevention, the social impact center of the UW School of Social Work. Collaborated to develop All Patients Safe, an online resource created by Forefront offering interactive suicide prevention training for medical professionals.

Ka Yee Yeung, PhD


Innovating across the disciplines of engineering, technology, and biomedical research, Dr. Ka Yee Yeung and her team are creating software tools designed specifically for the needs of biotech.

Isabelle Ragueneau-Majlessi, MD, MS

UW Drug Interaction Database (DIDB)

Co-founder of the UW Drug Interaction Database (DIDB) and Director of UW Drug Interaction Solutions. It has been used for over 20 years by pharmaceutical researchers and regulatory scientists around the world for drug interaction assessments and drug safety evaluations.

Amrita Mazumdar, PhD

Vignette AI

CEO of UW spinoff Vignette AI which improves user experience on low-bandwidth video connections and reduces costs for video distribution, by combining machine learning with traditional video streaming software services.

Ingrid Swanson Pultz, PhD

PvP Biologics

Co-founder and chief scientific officer of PvP Biologics, a Seattle biotech startup that developed a promising treatment for people with celiac disease and which was acquired by Takeda for $330 million in February 2020.