DIVERSITY: Full Steam Ahead – Octane Focuses on Women and Minorities. And, Launches a Fellows Program for Under-Represented Students…

Helping women and other minority entrepreneurs is a big part of the Octane Foundation for Innovations newly-released initiatives.

Octane is a multi-faceted organization in Orange County with a long-time accelerator and a new venture fund, among other endeavors. It’s also one of the driving forces of elevating the entire SoCal innovation ecosystem, based on the effort of CEO Bill Carpou.

Its foundation complements Octane’s mission of creating 55,00-plus high-paying jobs by 2030. Its goal is to advance equity, diversity, and inclusiveness across all industry sectors. It does this in conjunction with Octane’s mission of growing and strengthening the SoCal innovation ecosystem by creating jobs, scaling startups, and developing businesses.

While Octane has focused on women entrepreneurs in the past few years, the new Women Leaders initiative takes it to a new level, Linda DiMario, the foundation’s director of community engagement, told inter-TECH-ion.

“Women contribute to the success of business and the dynamic of the workplace,” DiMario said. “And yet, women are under-represented among business owners and in C-suites. The (foundation) is rallying women, and men, to change this imbalance. Employing concrete strategies, we intend to create more opportunities for women that will make the Orange County ecosystem a more equitable and exciting environment.”

Martha Montoya, CEO of AgTools, during her presentation at Octane’s LaunchPad presentations at the virtual Tech Innovation Forum last year

To that end, the Women Leaders initiative’s goal is to:
– increase the number of women entrepreneurs
– increase funding at all levels for companies led by women
– increase the number of women serving on boards
– optimize networking and resource accessibility for female founders

Members of the community can help in this endeavor by:
– mentoring or coaching a woman business owner
– making available resources that help women launch and grow businesses
– identifying and recommending women for non-profit/profit boards

Another diversity initiative, STEAM Fellows, aims to cultivate a broader population of STEAM students by supporting their careers and inspiring them to become entrepreneurs.

STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, the arts, engineering and math. The arts is the main difference between STEM and STEAM. The latter still involves scientific concepts but through via a more creative process.

Growing and sustaining the diversity and strength of OC’s workforce — and potentially, future entrepreneurs — is central to the vitality of the economy, DiMario said.

And, Octane has an aligned partner in the Broadcom Foundation, which is financially supporting this initiative. Broadcom is a global tech leader, with HQ in Irvine, that designs, develops and supplies semiconductor and infrastructure software tools.

The goal of its foundation is to advance STEM education by increasing opportunities to achieve success through equitable access to STEM pathways. One of those is increasing the number of engineers who enter the workforce by sponsoring academic research and programs that inspire and empower youth to pursue careers in this field. 

Supporting the aspirations of STEAM students — and building networks and opportunities for them within OC’s dominant life science and technology sectors — is critical, DiMario said.

To that end, the STEAM initiative’s goal is to:
– cultivate a pipeline of talent to strengthen the OC innovation ecosystem
– continue to deliver programs and facilitate network engagement
– create a “STEAM Ahead” inventory of networks and available resources

Companies from the community can get involved by:
– mentoring or coaching a STEAM student
– asking a STEAM student to give a keynote address, or in some other way, give them an opportunity to convey their experience and expertise in a workshop.
– provide on-site or virtual business experience

New STEAM Program
Octane is not wasting anytime in terms of applying this initiative in a practical way. It just launched the 2021 STEAM Fellows program, with support from the Broadcom Foundation.

The program is designed to help students from diverse and under-represented populations access job, career and entrepreneurial resources. It’s also intended to expose them to the OC innovation ecosystem.

Requirements include that undergrad or grad students are pursuing a field of study in one of the following:
– science
– technology
– engineering
– mathematics
– arts & culture
– business/entrepreneurship

And, that they’re willing to attend and participate in one of Octane’s several innovation forums that take place throughout the year, its expert webinar series, the Steam Ahead webinar series and a STEAM Ahead project.

Students can apply, by April 16, in the following ways:
– register directly online here
– be recommended by a college or university faculty member
– be recommended by a college-based or OC-ecosystem STEAM organization, like Device Alliance, OC STEM or OC Community College Business & Entrepreneur program.

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