Do girls not like science? As someone who chose to follow science as my academic pathway, I look back at sixth form and remember questioning why I was only one of two girls in my Maths class. Everyone studied STEM subjects at secondary school. Everyone loved science in primary school. At what point did young girls/ women choose to opt out? And why?

Hi there, my name is Gina and I work at Innovate UK (the UK’s innovation agency) as the Ageing Society lead for the Women in Innovation Awards. Growing up, the above wasn’t a rarity.

Fast forward a few years and I’m glad to say that I recently experienced a different situation where my fears appear to be unfounded. A room filled with a sea of women all sharing a common interest… science and technology innovation. There was a real feeling of camaraderie, excitement, energy and empowerment around the room. This was the scene at the Innovate UK Women in Innovation launch event held last month. I came away with a sense of awe at what these women can achieve.

I’m afraid I’m not sure I can provide answers to the questions I posed at the start of this post. Instead, what I can answer, are the top 5 things I get asked about the Innovate UK Women in Innovation Awards, and thus give you a bit of an insight into the scene described earlier.

Women in Innovation. Naturally, the first question that springs to mind is, what is Women in Innovation? In 2016, Innovate UK launched its first female only-competition which was aimed at increasing the number of women entrepreneurs applying for funding. Since launching the programme, there has been an increase in female led applications from 14% to 24%.

Great! (I hear you all cry).  But we can do better and we’d like to increase that application rate further. This year we announced the second round with 8 awards of £50,000 on offer to women who have innovative ideas to address one of the 4 grand challenge areas -- AI and the data economy; Clean growth; Future of mobility and Ageing society.

The Ageing Society Grand Challenge. Now I am going to say something that may shock you all. We are all ageing.

Through medical advances and healthier lifestyles, we are living longer than ever before. One in three children born in the UK today can expect to reach 100! Additionally, a large cohort are now reaching retirement age.

So, what does this mean? Not only does that mean the Queen’s centenarian letter-writing team are going to have to expand to sign all those 100th birthday letters, but the UK population is getting older. With this, comes new demands for technologies, products and services. Despite what you may think, the largest ownership of the Apple Watch is the over 55s and fastest growing social media market segment is the over 65s (this is mainly due to online dating - in all seriousness!).

Here is where the Ageing Society Grand Challenge enters the stage. The Women in Innovation awards will be funding two women who have innovative ideas to help people maintain their independence and wellbeing as they age. The idea is that applications align with the aim to support the ageing population and the overarching mission to ensure people can enjoy an extra five years of healthy, independent life.

Support & co. Something that is awesome and I’m proud to say, is that this is about more than just the money. Winners will also receive a tailor-made package of mentoring, coaching, business support and access to world leading facilities. This bespoke package can help to upskill in the areas where you need a bit of extra help, whether that be pitching to investors or business growth or financial advice. The programme also provides the invaluable opportunity to meet other women facing similar struggles across several sectors. Our last round of winners commented on how this not only increased confidence in themselves, but also in their idea. After all, the best innovations come about when a diverse mix of people come together, share their ideas and support each other to achieve great success.

A very appealing offer, am I right? To be honest I really wish I could apply, but you can! Read on to find out how.

The application process. We are looking for women who are founders, co-founders or senior decision makers in an organisation that has been up and running for at least 1 year. Importantly, we want you to be someone who will be an inspiration to others. We are looking for potential, we are looking for a clear business vision and we are looking for the next generation of female role models. If you feel you’re up for the job, we want to hear from you!

Getting involved. Of course, there are other ways to get involved. Alongside this programme, there will be a series of Women in Innovation: Building Success workshops held around the UK. These are free events where you can participate in master classes in areas such as grant writing, pitching to investors, how to gain funding and hear from inspirational female speakers. This is a great opportunity to meet likeminded women and make friends along the way.

Register here. I am so excited to be part of such an incredible campaign. The last round of winners represented a diverse group of the UK’s most promising female entrepreneurs who were featured in a photography exhibition in partnership with Getty Images, showcasing these inspirational women.

Leap back to my younger self and I wonder if seeing positive role modelling would have increased the number of girls opting into those science and maths classes. That is our aim now. In supporting and celebrating female entrepreneurs we will inspire others to pursue their ambitions too.

Apply to new Women in Innovation Competition. Find out more and apply here.