Women scientists, entrepreneurs share stories at Columbia event

Four women bringing different perspectives on the subjects of science, technology and entrepreneurship shared their experiences and challenges at the Women in Science & Entrepreneurship (WISE) Columbia panel discussion earlier this month.

The four panelists at the event, held Sept. 21 at the Missouri Innovation Center in Columbia, were:

  • Anna Haney, co-founder and CEO of Tin Can Technologies, a software development company
  • Sarah Hill, CEO of StoryUP, a virtual reality journalism startup
  • Heather Hennkens, assistant research professor at the University of Missouri Research Reactor Center
  • Carolyn Henry, interim dean of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine

The four women discussed a variety of subjects that cut across their different disciplines and areas of expertise, touching on topics including risk, failure and balance.

Taking chances, facing failure

Hennkens recalled a time when hesitation caused her to miss a chance to meet a prominent researcher in her field.

“Don’t wait for a better timing,” she said. “Find your voice.”

Hill also emphasized the importance of  taking chances.

“We have gotten so many nos over the last two years since we started. But it makes those yeses so much sweeter,” Hill said. “Especially if you are using technologies that a lot of people are not yet familiar with, you get a lot of nos from funders.”

As the distinction between academia and business blurs and basic research grants diminish, scientists have to rely on fundraising like entrepreneurs do.

“For the scientific research that we are sure that we can make a difference, we receive nine nos for every yes from both government and private agencies” Hennkens said.”It is important to pass those nos and keep trying.”

A recent survey by Fidelity Investment suggested that women tend to be more risk-averse than men. However, the panelists offered perspectives on the value of failure for entrepreneurs.

“We celebrate mistakes,” Hill said. “Failure is a good thing to remember to succeed.”

Said Haney: “I get an opportunity to fail often. What I recently found is, fail fast and fail cheap.”


The women also discussed the challenge of striking a balance between their professional and personal lives.

“Balancing work and life is often stressful. I feel guilty about my family when I am at work and I feel guilty about my work when I am with my family,” Hennkens said. “Having some personal alone time, me time, helps me to overcome the stress.”

Hill stressed the value of seeking help when it’s needed.

“Watch the table with four legs,” Hill said. “What happens if one leg is not there? It is important to balance your life and surround yourself with people who support you.”

Words of wisdom

A 9-year-old girl in the crowd asked for advice from the panelists, drawing a range of responses.

“Learn to invest in yourself,” Haney said. “Trust that you know your decisions and paths the best. Even if you are confused about what you are going to do, go with your gut and trust it and you will end up somewhere awesome.”

Said Hennkens: “Try a lot of things. Do something else. Try different things and places.”

Hill suggested yet another strategy: “Learn how to code!”

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