In my role on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), I have been honored to work with fellow advisory council members and the Department of Commerce to shape a new $10B Regional Innovation Hub program that will be funded by The CHIPS & Science Act. 

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking about that new program with David Ponraj on Breaking Down Barriers, a podcast that “explores the opportunity to build wealth in local, regional, and national economies through entrepreneurship-led economic development.” 

We discussed:

  • The Regional Innovation Hub program’s plan for “catalytic” investment of $1B in 10 state ecosystems over five years.
  • What the Regional Innovation Hub program prioritizes: advancing technologies, building new businesses, and shifting talent patterns around diversity, inclusivity, and job opportunities.
  • What qualifies a region for the program, and why the program prioritizes a region’s potential over its need–the assets, resources, and opportunities that will translate into the greatest wins for the national economy, as well as for national security.
  • The importance of breaking down barriers for traditionally marginalized communities, setting the conditions for new businesses to launch and thrive.
  • Where ecosystem development starts, ideally: Mapping conditions and assets in the region or state, then recognizing opportunities to connect businesses and other entities for growth. 
  • The significant impact startup communities have on state, region, or community ecosystems when “nodes” are connected, including entrepreneurs, angel investors, incubators, universities, and corporate entities. 

The National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) is in the Department of Commerce. Its purpose is to support entrepreneurs who are advocating for innovative technologies. Regional Innovation Hubs is one program under CHIPS & Science. Learn more about NACIE and the Regional Innovation Hub program.

I’m delighted to announce that I have accepted two new opportunities to share my expertise in entrepreneurship and innovation at the national level.

This month, I begin a two-year appointment to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), a federal advisory committee managed by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, has reestablished NACIE with the primary goal of developing a National Entrepreneurship Strategy that “strengthens America’s ability to compete and win as the world’s leading startup nation and as the world’s leading innovator in critical emerging technologies.”

NACIE is charged with identifying and recommending solutions to drive the innovation economy, including growing a skilled STEM workforce and removing barriers for entrepreneurs ushering innovative technologies into the market. The council also facilitates federal dialogue with the innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development communities. I’m thrilled to be working again with co-chairs Steve Case (Chairman/CEO of Revolution, Chairman of the Case Foundation, and Chairman, Startup American Partnership) and Kristina Johnson, President of The Ohio State University.

I’m also thrilled to be joining the Advisory Board of the Center for American Entrepreneurship, a nonpartisan Washington, DC–based research, policy, and advocacy organization that “works with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels across the country to build a policy environment that promotes new business formation, survival, and growth.” I have been following John Dearie’s policy work for the last 5 years. Through Ian Hathaway, who is a CAE Fellow, John and I were formally introduced. John and his team do great work on behalf of entrepreneurs across the U.S. It will be an honor to work with Joni Cobb (Chair of CAE), John and fellow Advisory and BOD members. 

As excited as I am to impart learnings from my ecosystem building work in Colorado and the Midwest in Ohio, I am eager to learn from others serving CAE and NACIE, including corporate innovators, entrepreneurs, ecosystem builders, venture capitalists, university leaders (presidents and PhDs focused on commercialization) and other leading technology innovators and advocates.

As Abigail Adams said,  “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” The continuous cycle of learning and contributing, along with the opportunity to build new relationships with like-minded professionals across the U.S., are my primary motivators for these two new engagements. 

Historically, capital hasn’t been easy to come by in the Midwest. Cultivating the startup ecosystem in Cincinnati required a new strategy to attract the capital needed to catalyze growth for founders eager to disrupt big markets with big ideas. Cintrifuse’s fund-of-funds strategy (modeled after the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund in Ann Arbor, MI) was a big bet. The strategy was beautifully executed with the incredible talent and dedication of people like Tim Schigel. Tim and I have remained close friends and colleagues ever since. 

After leading the investment committee for the Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund, Tim went on to found Refinery Ventures, a Midwest firm that invests in early-stage companies and offers mentorship to founders between post-seed and Series A funding. Last year Refinery Ventures launched a new podcast series, Fast Frontier Podcast, which explores “how innovation frontiers are emerging in surprising places.” It was fun sharing my story with Tim. We explored chapters in my entrepreneurial journey and personal success strategies, particularly the importance of taking risks, maintaining a beginner’s mind, and building relationships. Along with insatiable curiosity, fast learning, the right support from others, and willingness to try something new, my drive to forge new relationships has been a theme throughout my professional life.

Make Potential Your North Star

For me, success started with something my mother told me: “You’re in charge of your own potential, so make that potential your North Star.” In fact, entrepreneurship wasn’t my focus when I started out. I was highly inquisitive, filled with a thousand ideas, and loved to make genuine connections with lots of people. I still do! I was also crystal clear about one thing—my independence. As I told Tim, “My North Star, even as a very young woman graduating from university, was to be independent. I did not want to be dependent on family or friends for wherever I was headed. I wanted to pave my own way [and] be self-directed in the pursuit of my professional goals.”

A tough sense of independence has served me well. I advise my mentees with that insight in mind. Through the many pivots in my career, I’ve continually succeeded by answering key questions: What is my potential? How can I learn from others and build relationships toward realizing that potential? Answering those, I’ve been clear in mapping my professional path. 

Listen to the full episode.

In the summer of 2014, while serving as the CEO of Cintrifuse in Cincinnati, I met Steve Case and the Rise of the Rest team when they visited Cincinnati on their bus tour. Launched in 2014 to promote investment in ecosystems and startups outside of Silicon Valley, Rise of the Rest has now “raised $300 Million to invest in early stage startups across America — startups that we believe will be successful at driving local economies by yielding successful returns for investors.”

Our regional Cincinnati startup ecosystem had been growing through the efforts of entrepreneurial ecosystem support organizations The Brandery and CincyTech, as well as Cintrifuse. During the Rise of the Rest visit, top-tier startups presented to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs, including Steve, and the winning startup received a $100K investment. A fun first experience with Steve and his Rise of the Rest team—and the beginning of  an important collaboration!  

Since then, I have been honored to accompany them on several Rise of the Rest tours (I’ll always remember Green Bay, WI!) and to participate in several annual meetings with Rise of the Rest portfolio companies in Chicago and Washington, DC. I have gotten to know the amazing Rise of the Rest team—Anna Mason, Mark Rucci, and now Jamie Rodota—and as part of their Expert Mentor Network, I have worked with and learned from many outstanding founders across the Midwest. 

2021 Playbook: Supporting Startups Through COVID-19

Rise of the Rest’s support of startups hasn’t wavered through this global pandemic. In January, they published a series of case studies, Responses to COVID-19: How Cities Across America are Supporting Startups, that includes a look into Energize Colorado’s successful model, highlighting three primary areas: funding, navigation, and founder support. What the report points out has been true: “While the pandemic has wrought extraordinary public health and financial hardships, it will accelerate innovations in critical industries.”

Now approaching the one-year mark, Energize Colorado’s tested model is now ripe for replication in other regions or at national scale. As I share in the report: “Energize Colorado was designed in such a way that it’s a blueprint which can be adopted by others. We are in active discussions with multiple states, and envision a future where there’s an Energize America effort. There are the tactical elements that others can implement: funding, mentorship, mental health support, and reopening guidance. Each of these products can then be adapted to serve different types of organizations, from startups to nonprofits, in both urban and rural settings.”

Read more about how Energize Colorado and other initiatives are “seizing this moment for entrepreneurial ecosystems, and in turn, charting the path back to prosperity for us all.” Download ROTR’s Responses to COVID-19: How Cities Across America are Supporting Startups.