Women Innovators Conference Inspires, Informs, and Connects

Credit: Craig Bares

“We are all here to talk about innovation,” said Mary Grove, managing partner of Bread and Butter Ventures, a venture capital firm in Minneapolis. “I’m going to focus on two topics: innovating in our community and innovating in our personal journey.”

Grove’s keynote speech opened the 6th annual Women Innovators Conference, held in person for the first time in three years at the McNamara Alumni Center on November 15, 2022. Organized by MIN-Corps and co-sponsored by Tech Comm and the College of Science and Engineering, the conference focused on inspiring, informing, and connecting attendees. Of the 210 registrants, 61% were students, 15% were staff or faculty, and 24% were external, most likely early-stage entrepreneurs and other local business representatives.

While the numbers are improving for women in the biosciences and social sciences, women are still underrepresented in STEM, especially in engineering and computer science. Additionally, women receive far less venture capital than men. There has been a 114% increase in the number of women entrepreneurs over the last 20 years, and the number of women-owned small businesses increased by 58% from 2007 to 2018. Still, only 16% of startups in the United States had at least one woman founder, and 42% of small businesses are owned by women. 

The Women Innovators Conference is doing its part to address these disparities by providing a place for women to gather and connect while building their skills. The conference, which included breakout sessions focused on nurturing their voices, creativity, and innovative skill sets, opened and ended with keynote speeches and offered the chance to network at a post-conference reception. 

Mary Grove Giving opening keynote speech

Grove, the daughter of immigrants from Thailand, talked about growing up in a family that built and ran small businesses together, an experience that taught her about failures and successes and about the grit and tenacity required for entrepreneurship. She worked at Google for 15 years, and her tenure included serving as founding director of Google for Startups, an endeavor that involved working with thousands of people around the world.

Now based in Minnesota, Grove’s early-stage firm invests nationally but relies on the Minnesota home-field advantages. “Minnesota is home to the highest number of Fortune 500 companies per capita in the nation with 16 companies headquartered here. No one is leveraging that at scale, which is the model of Bread and Butter Ventures.” She pointed out that Minnesota has the highest 5-year startup survival rate of any state in the country and referenced the 2022 Global Startup Ecosystem Report that put Minnesota at number four in a list of emerging startup ecosystems. “Healthcare, retail space, food space: no better place in the world than Minnesota.”

Damaris Hollingsworth giving closing keynote speech.

The conference closed with a talk by Damaris Hollingsworth, the founder and principal architect at Design by Melo, who shared inspiring stories from her childhood in Brazil that detailed her path to launch her own architectural firm. In parting, she said: “One takeaway: you have everything you need in you or you have the roots to develop it.”