Call for new approach to encourage diversity among health entrepreneurs

More 'nuanced' approach needed to encourage women to become health entrepreneurs

15th March 2021 about a 3 minute read
"Too often people link the idea of an aggressive pitch to entrepreneurship and this can be intimidating". Catherine Pollard, NHSx
"The lack of women was even worse among academics involved in enterprise than it was among clinical entrepreneurs." Dr. Claire Bloomfield, NCIMI

The NHS needs to take a new approach to encouraging more women to get involved in health enterprises to attract those who are not traditional ‘Dragons Den’ material.

That was the message from Catherine Pollard of NHSx at a Future Care Capital (FCC) webinar Enterprise in Health: Who are the Innovators?

Ms Pollard, Director of the NHSx Centre for Improving Collaboration, said the “stark” findings from the FCC research showing the lack of women in this area had surprised her. 

“The fact that there are so few females in trusts and universities involved in enterprise concerns me deeply,” she said, adding that there were many reasons including lack of motivation, support and role models.

“Also there’s the question of the extent to which the support being offered for women innovators is sufficiently nuanced in how it encourages women who might not be traditional Dragon’s Den ‘I’m going to pitch my idea and go at this relentlessly’.”


She said that too often people linked the idea of an aggressive pitch to entrepreneurship and this could be intimidating.

Another panelist, Dr. Claire Bloomfield, CEO of the National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI), noted that the research suggested that the lack of women was even worse among academics involved in enterprise than it was among clinical entrepreneurs.

She said this could be because female clinicians had the safety net of a secure job which enabled them to take risks. 

“Academic roles, by their very nature, are less surefooted and long-term. Whether taking that higher risk to engage is something that can pull you away from academic success is worth exploring.”

On the issue of the effect of COVID-19 on innovation, Dr. Bloomfield said the pandemic had created a ‘unity of purpose’ which had helped drive innovation. 

“How that works post-pandemic when everybody starts to refocus again on the multitude of challenges we face, and still retain that drive and innovation, is going to be an interesting one to balance”. 

She added that AI offered a real opportunity post-pandemic to help address workforce shortages, for example in radiology.

Lack of transparency

Another issue highlighted in the Enterprise in Health report was lack of transparency when it comes to the commercial links of clinical and academic staff. 

Catherine Pollard said : “The issue of transparency is close to our heart at NHSx… We are definitely finding there is a significant amount of variation in practice across the country when corporate NHS bodies are working in partnership with industry. 

“We have come across some quite restrictively worded Non Disclosure Agreements in use …We hope to nudge the sector into more transparent working.”

Chairing the event, Dr. Josefine Magnusson, Senior Research Officer at Future Care Capital, said the organisation had made a number of recommendations following the research.

“One is that the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) should extend its current focus on diversity to put a grater emphasis on what can be done to encourage and support more women to get involved in health enterprise.

“For universities this might be considered under the Athena Swan charter which is focused on addressing gender inequality.”

A copy of the report Enterprise in Health: Who are the Innovators? is available here

You can watch a recording of the webinar here