A newly created role at the UMKC Innovation Center will see leadership for its early-venture and tech initiatives consolidated under the guidance of Jill Meyer.
“New businesses, jobs — and good jobs — are key indicators of a strong economy,” said Meyer, the center’s new senior director of technology ventures. “We need to continue to work, across the region, to build startup density, connectivity, inclusivity and the collaborations that will strengthen our tech community.”
Meyer is expected to drive the strategic vision, direction and development of the center’s technology pillar and its position in the Kansas City tech sector, according to a press release. Her role includes leading Digital Sandbox KC, Whiteboard2Boardroom, KCInvestED and SBIR/STTR programs.
“The UMKC Innovation Center has already created a solid foundation that connects entrepreneurs to resources, education and early-stage capital,” said Meyer, noting the launch of initiatives like Digital Sandbox KC have helped build a pipeline for early-stage companies and that partnerships with initiatives like KCInvestED have provided a clear picture of venture capital in Kansas City. “But, as any entrepreneur knows, you have to keep your opportunities open and iterate for the future. What’s the next challenge we need to solve? What will our tech startups need in five years, and how can we build that now?”
Most recently, Meyer has been the senior technology development and commercialization consultant for the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC and program director for ScaleUP! Kansas City.
“I’ve had the honor of working with hundreds of Kansas City startups and scaling companies, coaching very young tech startups that have since become name brands in Kansas City and helping seasoned business owners reach $10 million and upwards in revenue,” she said.
Through her leadership with ScaleUP! KC, her team turned a contract from the U.S. Small Business Administration into a locally supported and sustained coaching and peer mentoring program that has helped over 100 Kansas City business owners scale their businesses.
“Jill brings a unique perspective to this role,” said Maria Meyers, executive director of the UMKC Innovation Center and vice provost of economic development at UMKC. “We often talk about business owners working on their businesses, not just in them. Jill has done both — at the business and ecosystem level. She started her own company, helped develop a Bay Area startup and ran large teams and P&Ls for national companies. She gets it — but she’s also worked in and on the tech ecosystem, helping shape programming and initiatives that will change the climate for tech startups in KC. Those combined experiences give her vision and insight.”
Before she joined the UMKC Innovation Center in 2011, Jill Meyer worked in the Bay Area where she launched her own company that helped entrepreneurs identify talent and bring new products to market. She had previously served as a corporate leader for a multinational company and jumped at the opportunity to leverage both experiences when the startup bug bit her again. During the height of the dot-com boom, she helped that company conceptualize, launch and expand a tech startup.
“It was a great time to be in California and to be part of a founding team for a tech startup,” Meyer said, “and it taught me important lessons about what an ecosystem is and can be. I have that vision for Kansas City to be that tech mecca in the Midwest — but we need to define it on our terms; it has to make sense for our entrepreneurs.
“Silicon Valley had 40 years to build its ecosystem,” she added. “When we compare ourselves to a 40-year-old benchmark, we sell ourselves short on what we can do, what we could be and the opportunities we can create.”
At the UMKC Innovation Center, Meyer will lead the center’s work to pave a new vision for regional entrepreneurship along with Carmen DeHart, senior director of entrepreneurial education; Jenny Miller, senior director of ecosystem development; and Rob Williams, senior director of SourceLink, which helps other communities develop their entrepreneurial infrastructures.
Sarah Mote is marketing director for the UMKC Innovation Center.