UAlbany Partnering with WiNFUND to Promote Women Entrepreneurs in Africa

A man in a green tie speaks at a lectern with a presentation screen behind him featuring Blackstone Launchpad UAlbany student Elsie Essien.
UAlbany School of Business Professor Sanjay Goel presents on the iWiN program in New York at an event hosted by SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. (Photo by Marcos Lainez, SUNY Downstate)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 30, 2023) — Access to healthcare remains a global challenge, with 50 percent of the world’s population lacking essential services. Now, the University at Albany is collaborating with the Women in Innovation Fund (WiNFUND) to address this crisis.

The project, iWiN, aims to build entrepreneurial training and capacity building for women entrepreneurs from Africa. iWiN will train and mentor women entrepreneurs who are already implementing home-grown solutions to some of the continent’s most urgent health challenges.

WiNFUND is co-founded by the Health Innovation and Investment Exchange (HIEx) and Reckitt, in partnership with the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Eco Bank Foundation.

The project aims to address two significant gaps: 1 in 2 people, or half the world, lack access to essential health care, and less than 2 percent of venture capital funding globally goes to women, despite the evidence that their ventures generate stronger returns.

To help kickstart the project and support the initiative, artist Christella Bijou from Rwanda has created 8,080 pieces of NFTs (non-fungible token) digital art for use as an initial fundraiser.

"We are thrilled to partner with the Health Innovation and Investment Exchange and Reckitt for this exceptional program designed to serve a vibrant, yet woefully underserved community," said Thenkurussi (Kesh) Kesavadas, vice president for research and economic development at the University at Albany. "The iWiN program, developed by our School of Business and Office of Economic Development, will help HIEx build capacity to succeed globally by improving health while also empowering women."

UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development Thenkurussi Kesavadas presents at a lectern.
UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development Thenkurussi (Kesh) Kesavadas (Photo by Marcos Lainez, SUNY Downstate)

The iWiN project has been spearheaded at UAlbany by School of Business Professor Sanjay Goel and Director of Economic Development Maria Pidgeon. It is supported by the Blackstone LaunchPad program at the School of Business, which has been helping to drive economic development within the communities UAlbany serves since 2016.

"As one of the most diverse public research institutions in the nation and a national leader in educational equity and social mobility, we believe UAlbany is ideally positioned to help WiNFUND make a difference for communities in need," continued Kesavadas. "As a Carnegie-classified R1 institution, UAlbany’s diverse faculty and students are also advancing our understanding of the world in fields like artificial intelligence, public health and entrepreneurship, all critical skillsets for meeting global challenges such as access to health care."

"Innovation and digital technologies can be transformative but 70-90 percent of them fail and less than 3 percent of the initiatives are sustained after three years," said Pradeep Kakkattil, CEO of HIEx and co-founder of WiNFUND. "To ensure that innovations and technologies deliver their potential in health care, we need to invest in building systems and the capacities of innovators. iWiN is tailored to draw on the extensive expertise and experience of SUNY in health and management to build sustainable and high-impact ventures by female health entrepreneurs."

"As we move towards SDGs, we need to leverage public-private and community partnerships and invest our collective expertise, resources and networks for maximum impact," said Hamzah Sarwar, global social impact and partnerships director at Reckitt and co-founder of WiNFUND. "The WiNFUND has identified amazing female health entrepreneurs and, working with SUNY, the iWiN training initiative will provide innovators with a clear roadmap for sustainable health care impact. I am calling on other private sector partners to join hands in this initiative."

"As an African woman entrepreneur, I have not seen many programs helping women in health tech like WiNFUND. So many young people in health tech, especially those led by women, struggle to get any support like mentorship, funding, hiring, networking and business knowledge," said Shamim Nabuuma from CHIL AI lab, an artificial intelligence technology company based in Kampala, Uganda, that seeks to improve on the access of chronic disease treatment for women. "We need WiNFUND kind of programs to unleash the full potential of youth and women in technology entrepreneurship. As a fellow entrepreneur in this journey and as commonwealth youth council representative of Africa, I extend all my support and am excited about the iWiN capacity building program."

"The iWiN program serves the dual purpose of supporting entrepreneurship among women in Africa and innovation in women’s health care. We expect that this initiative will help empower women, lift people out of poverty, and improve women’s health," said Goel, who also serves as director of research at the New York State Center for Information Forensics and Assurance. "The School of Business and the UAlbany Blackstone Launchpad are thrilled to support the iWiN endeavor by engaging our students, faculty and staff."

"UAlbany is excited to apart of this important initiative to help build entrepreneurial training and capacity building for women entrepreneurs from Africa," said Maria Pidgeon, UAlbany’s director of economic development. "UAlbany will provide opportunities to train and mentor women entrepreneurs who are thinking of or have already implemented home-grown solutions to some of the continent’s most urgent health challenges. We will help connect them to the right resources and mentors and prepare them for success in acquiring funding."

The launch event, held on March 24, was hosted by SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, the only academic medical center in Brooklyn, providing a community of 2.3 million people with access to some of the best physicians (and physicians to be) in the world.