Editor’s note: Innovation Thursday – a deep dive into a newly emerging technology or companies such as our Startup Spotlight features – is a regular feature at WRAL TechWire.


CHAPEL HILL – In just eight months, one group of women – startup founders, industry leaders and trailblazers – are ready to impact the innovation and entrepreneurship community in new and different ways. Through a partnership with KickStart Venture Services, the Women In Bio – RTP chapter celebrates its first cohort to graduate from the 3.8 Initiative, a program which works to increase representation for women on startup boards, particularly in the RTP area’s life science and health tech innovation ecosystem.Named for International Women’s Day held each year on March 8, the 3.8 Initiative gives women leaders the tools, knowledge and network they need to become future board leaders. The initiative is supported by KickStart, a department and life sciences startup accelerator that is part of Innovate Carolina, the central team for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We are delighted to graduate this first WIB-RTP 3.8 Initiative cohort of smart, motivated women who will impact our local life science and health tech innovation community,” says Mireya McKee, director of KickStart Venture Services. “As the region continues to grow and attract startups at a fast pace, these women can immediately fill a much-needed gap – lending their talents and skillsets through board service to many startups in need of this very vital resource.”

Mireya McKee, director of KickStart Venture Services

Mireya McKee, director of KickStart Venture Services | Photography by Rachel Mintel

The inaugural cohort was celebrated on March 8 at an event that drew more than 50 regional leaders who support the initiative, including startups in need of immediate board support. A speed networking round was held, which offered a unique opportunity for cohort graduates to meet and network with local startups.

“We are pleased to announce that 12 area, women life science leaders have completed our inaugural WIB-RTP 3.8 Initiative program, focused on preparing women for startup board service,” says Shirley L. Paddock, WIP-RTP chair and senior vice president, business unit head at Syneos Health. “Over the past eight months, this cohort of women were exposed to topics that further equip and prepare them to have a meaningful impact on North Carolina’s innovative bioscience and technology footprint.”

Launched in August, the cohort worked with subject matter experts to outline content relevant to startup board governance as well as participated in leadership seminars and workshops. The 3.8 Initiative program focuses on three pillars: a supportive network of women leaders in the life science and health tech community; a curriculum of topics and experiential opportunities that are essential for startup board readiness; and facilitation of board seat placement for our cohort graduates by working with local VCs and incubators and connecting them with local emerging startups.


Shirley L. Paddock, WIP-RTP chair and senior vice president, business unit head at Syneos Health | Photography by Rachel Mintel

“Women In Bio appreciates the value of proper training for service on start-up boards,” says Pepper Landson, a 3.8 Initiative graduate, entrepreneur-in-residence at KickStart, and CEO and co-founder of Praetego, Inc. “Life science start-ups are incredibly vulnerable and therefore, need directors who are well prepared to guide them towards the next major inflection point. ‘Well-prepared’ includes training and the WIB 3.8 Cohort program is an excellent first step towards that training and preparation. The program takes talent from a diverse background and provides them with formal training. And, it is contributing to a healthy life-science company ecosystem in RTP.”

The 3.8 Initiative also offers participants the ability to find a startup board position by connecting them with a broader network, including advisors who are established women in the innovation and entrepreneurship community.

“Participating in the 3.8 initiative was one of the greatest opportunities for growth I had in 2022!” says Michelle Egger, 3.8 Initiative graduate and CEO and co-founder of BIOMILQ, Inc. “Being able to learn with a cohort of passionate and impressive women how to support founders and starts ups as a board member was not only inspiring, but incredibly aligned to and educational for how I hope to give back to the innovation ecosystem of North Carolina.”

As part of the first cohort, three of the 12 participants selected to participate are leaders who work at UNC-affiliated life sciences companies:

  • Christina Mack, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, IQVIA
  • Tracy Raines, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer, AgBiome
  • Katie Warner, PhD, Co-Founder and Vice President, RNA Biology, Ribometrix

“The 3.8 Initiative has drawn together a phenomenal group of women leaders in RTP, and over the past eight months the cohort has grown into a supportive, cohesive network,” says Katie Warner, co-founder and vice president, RNA biology, Ribometrix. “The topics in the 3.8 Initiative mirrored the diversity of backgrounds in the cohort, and I appreciated the opportunity to both learn from and contribute to the curriculum.”

Through a U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition award, KickStart supported the 3.8 Initiative by providing expert speakers, helping to hone the program’s curriculum and connecting participants to startups seeking board members.

“Women in Bio’s 3.8 Initiative empowers women to not only contribute but also create a more innovative and successful business landscape,” adds Courtney Kamlet, a 3.8 Initiative graduate and VP of Group General Counsel and corporate secretary at Vontier Corporation.


Katie Warner, 3.8 Initiative graduate and co-founder and vice president, RNA biology, Ribometrix | Photography by Rachel Mintel

“Due to the overwhelming success of this inaugural cohort, we look forward to enrolling a second cohort later this summer,” says Paddock. “This program would not have been possible without the commitment of local leaders and subject matter experts who stepped up and contributed to each session. Building on that momentum, we are eager to continue with the WIB-RTP 3.8 Initiative as we prepare women for startup board service through this very vital program.”

Applications for next year’s cohort open May 1. If interested in being involved as a participant, speaker, advisor or panelist, please send nominations or intent to apply to rtp3.8@womeninbio.org.

© Shellie Edge, Innovate Carolina