WiSTEM wins $10,000 at College New Venture Challenge


Source: Screen shot from live stream

In this screenshot from the event live stream on the afternoon of March 11, Ananya Asthana pitches her organization, Women in STEM, to a board of judges for the College New Venture Challenge. The event was live streamed because the University of Chicago had limited the size of gatherings due to concerns over spreading COVID-19.

Madeline Welch, Opinion Editor

A U-High club designed to encourage women in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics just received $10,000 for placing third at the 8th annual College New Venture Challenge. Women in STEM was founded by senior Ananya Asthana, who was the only high school student involved in the competition.

Ananya is the founder and executive director of WiSTEM, which encourages women to pursue careers in STEM fields through mentorship and outreach programs. Since its founding in 2017, the club has grown tremendously, as it now serves over 1,300 students at over 40 schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ghana and Nigeria.

“In the fall of my junior year, I started to think of WiSTEM as more of a business instead of a grassroots activism movement,” Ananya said. “I realized that we needed more guidance from the business and development side.”

Ananya discovered the College New Venture program from professors at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she also took classes exploring entrepreneurship in summer 2018.

“We are fully entrenched in the process of expansion and outreach and learning how to accommodate the number of requests we get to build chapters, and that’s what led me to the College New Venture program,” Ananya said.

In order to be eligible for the grant offered by the College New Venture program, Ananya enrolled in its highly selective and competitive course.

“The CNV course starts with kickoff events that teach you about the course and they bring in really cool guest speakers,” Ananya said. “I met the CEO of Cards Against Humanity, who runs a science ambassador scholarship fund for women. Part of my mindset was that even if I don’t get accepted into this course, you meet so many cool people.” 

Along with three U.of.C. students, Ananya composed the pitch and the business model to advance through levels of the College New Venture Challenge. 

“We were trying to figure out what makes us most appealing as not only a nonprofit organization serving our beneficiaries but also to get funding,” Ananya said. “A lot of what has limited our activities over the past few years is just funding.”

When Ananya goes to college next year, WiSTEM hopes to hire a full-time executive director, so the organization can continue growing. She said the main expenses would be to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and to improve digital marketing using ads and targeted strategies.

Through the College New Venture Challenge, Ananya not only learned what makes a startup viable but also what she hopes to do as a career.

“What I took away from the experience is that entrepreneurship is 100% what I want to do with my future,” she said. “The connections that you build, the networks that you create, the teams and relationships you get to form — it’s insane.”