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Students gathered at The Garage

Steve and Katherine Elms Establish Program Promoting Diversity in Entrepreneurship

A new gift from Steve Elms ’92 MBA and his wife, Katherine Thomas Elms, will help launch the Propel Program, an initiative to foster diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship at Northwestern University. Steve Elms is an alumnus of the Kellogg School of Management and member of the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) advisory board.

Under the direction of INVO and The Garage, the Propel Program will support networking, mentorship, and immersive learning experiences that promote diversity and inclusion in the invention-to-innovation-to-entrepreneurship lifecycle. Led by Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage, and Hayes Ferguson, entrepreneur-in-residence at The Garage, the program will support activities such as the:
  • #GirlBoss Immersion Trip, which brings current students to New York or San Francisco to hear from women in successful innovation leadership positions, including founders, investors, and technologists;
  • Pitch Competition, through which students pitch their startup ideas to a panel of female mentors and may receive a stipend and advising to further develop their ideas;
  • VentureCat Idea Show, an opportunity for Northwestern’s most promising student-founded startups teams to network and pitch their ventures to an esteemed panel of judges and the broader community. 
Studies have shown that diversity of thought ensures the most distinctive innovations and successful business outcomes. For example, a 2015 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above industry means. Integrating female and minority participation in the I2E lifecycle will not only more equitably serve the needs of students but also leverage untapped talent to improve University metrics in invention disclosures, patents, and startups.

“The Propel Program will actively empower women and minority students to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors,” Ferguson said. “The opportunity to hear stories and receive guidance from entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds will encourage and support students who otherwise might not have considered this path.”

A veteran healthcare venture capitalist, Steve Elms recognizes how diversity can inspire innovative thinking and has long been an advocate for increased representation of women and minorities in entrepreneurship. The Propel Fund will help create an innovation infrastructure at Northwestern that encourages the participation of underrepresented groups, nurtures their talent, and positions them for success as they traverse the I2E pathway.

“As one of the founders of the first institutional venture capital fund in the country to focus on supporting women and minority entrepreneurs, I am especially excited about this new program and am grateful to Steve and Katherine for their important gift,” said Sona Wang, chair of the INVO Advisory Board and Northwestern University trustee.

Steve Elms is a managing partner at Aisling Capital, a life sciences investment firm that invests in companies developing innovative healthcare technologies. He previously served as a director of numerous private and public biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. Prior to completing his MBA at the Kellogg School of Management, he earned his bachelor’s degree in human biology at Stanford University.