A new women-focused incubator at 1871 will begin taking applications Tuesday in advance of a January 2015 opening — and to the relief of some entrepreneurs, it won’t be called FEMtech.
Instead, the initiative will be named WiSTEM 1871, a nod to women in science, technology, engineering and math, the company announced Friday.
The new branding was created pro bono by Chicago-based advertising agency Leo Burnett. And, yes, it’s meant to sound a bit like “wisdom.”
Applications for the incubator, which will include 20 to 30 women-founded startups, are expected to close around Oct. 15. That’s the date the hub’s 25,000-square-foot, $2.5 million expansion dubbed “1871 2.0” is expected to open, said 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. Programming for WiSTEM is slated to begin in early January 2015, he said.
WiSTEM, first announced in March as FEMtech, will be one of several specialty verticals launching this year at 1871, and the only one fully run by 1871, with the help of an advisory board.
The Bunker, for veterans, and the upcoming food-focused incubator are non-profits. The real estate accelerator, ElmSpring, is for-profit. All are run by independent entities, as are the Techstars and Impact Engine accelerators that call 1871 home.
Tullman said WiSTEM 1871 would offer content and mentorship tailored to women and to their schedules. He said the program would host events from noon to 2 p.m. rather than in the evening to make it easier for women who need to to return home to their families after work. But the program will also adjust to the members’ needs, Tullman said, and if they prefer evening programming or different resources, for example, organizers will try to give them that. Women entrepreneurs in other cities or those who work from home will be able to access programming virtually.
Organizers are still determining the level of access WiSTEM members will have to 1871’s shared spaces and programs. Membership fees are also still in question as 1871 leaders figure out how to charge in-person and remote members.
WiSTEM 1871 will be placed near Impact Engine in the new 1871 space, Tullman said, because it will give member companies the opportunity to work on some of the accelerator’s socially responsible initiatives.
Early reaction to the women’s incubator was mixed when it was announced in March, with some area entrepreneurs cheering efforts to focus resources on women and others expressing concern over a move that could separate female entrepreneurs from the mainstream.
The original name, too, was divisive. Tullman said some told him “FEMtech” didn’t sound cool, while others said it sounded like a placeholder.
“We just felt that generically attaching ‘tech’ to whatever wasn’t going to be a good solution,” Tullman said.
In March, Tullman teamed up with Susan Credle, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett, to develop a new identity for the incubator. The pro bono project went to Leo Burnett’s branding division, where Alisa Wolfson, SVP director of design, and Natalia Kowaleczko, design director, created a series of prototypes.
The Leo Burnett team presented the designs to a group of 1871 leadership and entrepreneurs, plus the executive committee of 1871’s board, in mid-August. The winning concept was approved Friday.
“The one that was chosen was very modern and technological, feminine in its core but not too overt,” Wolfson said. “That felt acceptable and approachable to a lot of the women in the room.”
The resulting branding is monochrome, with curved brackets arranged alongside flower motifs and icons that Wolfson said were inspired by both women’s traditional patternmaking and modern engineering elements. Another concept, which featured a lot of pink and was “feminine in a brazen way,” lost out to the more gender-neutral design, Wolfson said.
This will not be the only use of “WiSTEM.” Harvard University has a mentorship program by the same name, while Wisconsin uses the acronym to label statewide, though not necessarily women-focused, STEM initiatives. Tullman said he does not expect confusion.
“We thought that was what was beautiful about it is that it permeates into the industry so much,” Wolfson said. “By using the ‘1871’ after it, we can make it more of our name.”
Jill Salzman, an 1871 member and founder of networking group The Founding Moms, is pleased with the new name, saying FEMtech sounded like a “bunch of bots from a really bad movie.”
When she learned of the initiative, she said, she was excited that 1871 was making efforts to be more inclusive and supportive of female entrepreneurs. But she told leadership that she’d like to see a different name. A member of Ms. Tech, Salzman said others in the group also found the name lacking, and one said it sounded like a man’s attempt to name it.
“It’s extremely exciting for me that they finally figured out something that’s a little less condescending and a lot more inclusive,” Salzman said.
Salzman said she hopes to serve as a mentor to startup founders at WiSTEM and that the program now has a name that would not embarrass her. The new identity, she said, does not segregate women from the larger 1871 community. Instead, she said, it shows that the program will focus on their needs within it.
“My biggest hope really is in the marketing of this space to other women who are not a part of this thing yet,” Salzman said.Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune