Dr Tom Peach Written by Tom Peach
Published on 01 June 2021
6 min. read

Health and Life Sciences Focus
Nurturing an Authentic Leader’s Mindset
Cultivating a Confident Negotiator

WE ACE is a training and coaching programme dedicated to women entrepreneurs in health and life sciences, with a focus on leadership and negotiation.

The History of WE ACE
In 2018 Innovation Forum Oxford (IFO) created ACE (Awareness, Connectivity, Exchange) Saturdays–a series of workshops aimed at nurturing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship amongst academic and clinical researchers in the sciences at the University of Oxford (as detailed in 2018 and 2019 programmes). Feedback from participants and experts highlighted a particular need for more women-focussed training and initiatives to address the unequal representation of women in the entrepreneurship ecosystem (very well-documented in various published reports). This coincided with a call from the University of Oxford to research, interrogate and create local support for women to address gender inequalities throughout the entrepreneurial ‘life cycle’. As a call to action, IFO conceived and organised WE ACE (Women Entrepreneurs ACE) in collaboration with two experts, Milly Sinclair and Ellen J. K. who describe the programme:



Ellen describes the programme as:

“WE ACE focusses founders on the skills they need at the individual, firm, and market levels to negotiate and create high-impact deals to fund and grow their ventures. It is a highly applied programme which teaches entrepreneurs through individual development and real-time simulations of how to prepare for and confidently negotiate deals that are complex, fast-paced, and high-value.

Each WE ACE session combines lectures, simulations, reflection, and practice. We focus on developing each entrepreneur personally and professionally. Founders learn by “doing”. Founders learn to craft deals involving high-stakes approaches, complex relationships, novel technology, and market uncertainty. Following the WE ACE 2020 programme alumnae have negotiated novel agreements with major global partners, venture capitalists, and co-founders.”

WE ACE Aims and Objectives
WE ACE is a transformative programme offered to women entrepreneurs (WE) in the health and life sciences sector specifically, in keeping with the ACE (Awareness – Connectivity – Exchange) ethos of Innovation Forum Oxford’s support for entrepreneurship and innovation in the Oxford ecosystem.

WE ACE is tailored to the needs of women founders at varying stages of their ventures, with the aim of best supporting them through their individual challenges. It focusses on participants’ understanding of their personal “offer to the world” and aligns that offer with their venture’s vision; in other words, leading self to inspire others to follow. By the end of the program, participants have:

  • Understood some of the common ‘pitfalls’ that sometimes inhibit women’s progression.
  • Reflected on their scientific and entrepreneurial journey to this point, and their learning.
  • Clarified what they want to contribute to the world through their scientific and entrepreneurial skill and born from their values, expertise and strength.
  • Explored communicating their offer with authenticity and confidence in a way that people can both hear and understand.
  • Practiced embodying their offer fully through understanding the power of Leadership Presence and practicing speaking it out.
  • Connected with other WE ACE participants and identified a peer mentor(s) to co-support each other through this process so intention becomes clear action.

WE ACE also incorporates a “learning by doing” approach to negotiation with real-time simulations and feedback at the core of the deal-making training. By the end of the program, participants have:

  • Understood their own negotiation style and approach to deal-making.
  • Identified key cognitive and behavioural biases that can impact negotiation and deal-making.
  • Tried new approaches to negotiation and deal-making through simulations and role plays which can enhance their current abilities to handle complex negotiation situations.
  • Gained a new awareness of approaches to negotiation and deal-making that may be used in effectively managing difficult situations.

These two dimensions of the programme are supported with one-to-one coaching sessions that give participants the dedicated space and tailored support to transform what they’ve learnt into actionable steps in their personal journey. Participants are coached through:

  • Creating a ‘stakeholder’ map to understand the key people that are needed to support their offer.
  • Practicing making requests and managing promises to their key stakeholders with feedback.
  • Creating a coherent, practical and SMART action plan to move forward with confidence.
  • Clarifying their next steps and understood potential blocks and enablers.

“I liked that we worked on realistic examples of negotiation situations and pitches. Knowing what I did well gives me additional confidence for the future. But, the most important learning for me personally was realising that I should stand up for my own ideas and values more—the programme has helped me do this in a more ‘grounded’ way.”
WE ACE 2021 Participant

WE ACE Cohorts

The first cohort of WE ACE began during COVID lockdown in 2020, and brought together 17 participants representing diverse backgrounds, skills, and aspirations. They have expressed how positively the programme impacted on their journey.

Innovation Forum Oxford is delighted to have completed the second cohort (2021) of its WE ACE training programme. We’re excited to follow the 2021 cohorts’ successes and look forward to sharing in each participant’s next steps. The cohort of 19 participants representing 16 countries of origin was generously supported by the University of Oxford Medical Sciences Division, which allowed the training to be delivered at no cost to those accepted onto the programme.

Some of the WE ACE 2021 cohort

“The constant opportunity to speak and reflect on my own opinion about difficult subjects that I hadn’t encountered before was a true learning experience”
WE ACE 2021 Participant

The 2021 cohort join a growing community of entrepreneurial women that began in 2020. This diverse group of female founders have together formed collaborations inside and outside of academia; co-founded and grown ventures; and collectively raised over a million pounds in follow-on funding.

We are proud to have created WE ACE, which is

  • NOT an incubator/accelerator, but focused on women’s mindset to serve their entrepreneurial endeavours.
  • A diverse group of women that creates and feeds into a virtuous cycle of women supporting women.
  • Part of IFO, part of global IF, with the benefits of its diverse like-minded community of science entrepreneurs and supporters.
  • Will be constantly shaped by feedback, impact and the continuous support from stakeholders.

We intend to run the next cohort of the programme in Spring 2022. Please contact the team on [email protected] with any questions and to register your interest in applying to the third cohort of the programme.

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