University of Illinois ranked 18th out of top 25 universities to produce female entrepreneurs

By Jessie Webster

Melonee Wise, University Engineering alumna, was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 in August. Wise, is currently the CEO of Fetch Robotics and cofounded a software operating company called Unbounded Robotics. University alumni like Wise have contributed to database company CrunchBase’s recognition of the University as a top producer of female entrepreneurs.

The study, which reviewed only undergraduate programs, ranked the University 18 out of 25 in colleges that graduate female entrepreneurs. Also representing the state of Illinois were Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, ranked 12th and 21st respectively. According to CrunchBase, analysts studied 3,616 female founders whose companies raised money since 2009 to rank the schools.

“Illinois has always been very active in entrepreneurship, and women have played a great role in that,” said Charles Tucker, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Innovation. “I think (this study) is great recognition for the University.”

Tucker also noted that female entrepreneurs at the University are not only succeeding in the business world. Students and alumni are also making an impact in technology and fine arts. By expanding their contributions to other academic disciplines, he said women at the University can help resolve pressing social issues as well.

Shelby Ifft, vice president of professional development for the Society of Women in Business and junior in Business, said she believes the University’s ranking shows how committed the school is to producing generations of women that will promote a more encompassing work force.

“Illinois has always put an emphasis on diversity and inclusion,” Ifft said. “I think this ranking shows that the University is successful in giving women the skills they need to succeed in the real world.”

Ifft said she helps plan events for SWB that will give students valuable opportunities to network with companies and hone in on networking skills; she also organizes events that allow students to practice for future interviews and career fairs through presentations by company recruiters.

“Not only do our members get to network with these companies for potential internship or full-time opportunities, they also learn important skills for success in business in the process,” she said.

Sami Forsythe, senior in Business, said it is important for women to make a name for themselves in the business world because there was a time when they were not treated equally.

“I think it’s important for women to have a strong presence in the business industry because women in the past did not have the same rights that we have today,” Forsythe said. “We need to take advantage of these endless opportunities.”

Jennifer Neef, associate director of Career Connections at The Career Center, said encouraging students to be curious about the world around them will only lead to positive results in the future.

“I think that the students at the University of Illinois are really talented and highly creative and innovative,” Neef said. “What we do to foster that creativity and support that innovative spirit probably leads to young women being able to go out and be entrepreneurs.”

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