Editor’s note: New in KC is an ongoing profile series that highlights newly relocated members of the Kansas City startup community, their reasons for a change of scenery, and what they’ve found so far in KC. This series is sponsored by C2FO, a Leawood-based, global financial services company. Click here to read more New in KC profiles.
While Elizabeth Pishny is new to modern-day Kansas City, she’s no stranger to the metro — or its potential, she said, sharing ways she hopes her experiences in larger cities can help further shape the local tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“I’ve often said Kansas City allows people to have the best of both worlds,” the Stilwell, Kansas, native said, recalling her upbringing on a regenerative agriculture farm and ways the makeup of the metro allowed her to enjoy both the fun and energy of the city and a quiet childhood in a more rural setting.
Pishny ultimately left the region nearly 20 years ago to attend college at Texas Christian University, a decision she looks back on fondly and one that spurred decades of success in the worlds of consulting, startups and social change.
“I was with Accenture for about five-and-a-half years,” she noted, adding her position first took her to Atlanta, Georgia, and then back to Texas (Austin specifically) — with plenty of traveling in between.
“All that travel and time on the road eventually catches up to you, so I moved over to a startup in Austin,” Pishny continued, recalling her work at eCommerce giant, Bazaarvoice — Austin’s first startup to see an initial public offering (IPO).
“I was leading their highly regulated practice in Austin, and one day they asked if I would move to Singapore and start their Asia office. It was an unexpected opportunity and such a gift, personally and professionally.”
The experience opened Pishny’s eyes to a world filled with challenges, many of which primarily affect women, she recalled.
Journey of discovery
“I took a personal trip over Christmas of 2014 to trekking along the border of Tibet doing prevention work around human trafficking. We hiked for days into really remote villages, where women were really vulnerable to trafficking simply because they didn’t have jobs,” Pishny said.
“With economic opportunity they could send their girls to school and they wouldn’t be as vulnerable to the men who came to the village claiming to have a job for them selling fruit in the city — when in reality they would be trafficked to a brothel in India.”
“I was super happy in my job. I loved Singapore. But I felt this tug to go and do some work that could really bring business best practices into the nonprofit space and think about ways that I could use my business background to address this issue of trafficking.”
A year later, Pishny moved to the Dominican Republic where she tackled such challenges as access to capital and services such as preventive healthcare and education. She continued to serve as a champion for equal opportunity for and the safety of women.
“Women [in the Dominican Republic] were earning between $2 and $4 a day. … I realized all of us have a role to play in making the world a better place,” she said, emphasizing that can mean doing work on the ground — or from within companies, corporations and organizations.
“I realized I was in that latter group,” Pishny said, noting her service on boards, volunteering, and work to make a living that could help fund initiatives is equally as important as hands-on work in the grand scheme of giving back.
Upon such a realization, Pishny headed back to Austin where she joined Facebook, ultimately founding the social media giant’s first corporate responsibility program on the heels of its data privacy and collection crisis with British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
“I was thinking about how we could address some of the local issues on the ground in Austin — but also align that with our policy goals and initiatives,” Pishny explained.
“I piloted a model in Austin where we had a year-round emphasis on developing digital skills for three groups — local small businesses, local nonprofits and students from local charter schools.”
Pishny also led Facebook’s annual week of giving and worked with the mayor of Austin to identify solutions that could help the city address the needs of those experiencing homelessness and other social issues.
Such work ultimately inspired her to return to school, enrolling in a graduate program through the Harvard Kennedy School where she obtained a master’s degree in public administration — right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.
“I packed a carryon bag and booked a one-way [flight] home to Kansas City … and at that time, of course, I thought I’d be here for a week — but we all know how that turned out,” she laughed, noting many of her belongings were still in Austin when she began to wonder if she should make a permanent return to Kansas City.
“I started exploring opportunities here and, of course, reflected on how important family had become to all of us over the course of the pandemic. I felt like the time was right to come home and recommit to this great city,” Pishny said, adding she’s since taken on a position with Google, building the company’s cloud presence throughout the region.
The role has quickly embedded her in the city’s startup and tech community as she works alongside leading tech companies like PayIt and C2FO and with investment-focused community leaders that include Darcy Howe, Caroline Vandeusen and Ed Frindt — the trio that leads KCRise Fund.
Click here to ready about KCRise Fund’s recent support of Startland News’ annual reader support drive — taking place now through Nov. 30.
“I think the city has a great role model in somebody like Darcy who has helped [and worked] alongside so many women entrepreneurs. But Kansas and the Midwest has always been a place that supports women,” she said, recalling her earliest memory of a hardworking woman in entrepreneurship.
“I think back to growing up on a farm. My mom was mostly doing the work with the cattle — and women have always been strong and independent. You see that in the ways that they are starting businesses and being amazing role models for other women. There’s a lot of support here, which I’ve been excited to see.”
Carrying the potential to be even more thrilling for Pishny: figuring out how she can play a role in advancing the city’s thriving network of support and overall entrepreneurial energy. She also serves on Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s human trafficking advisory board.
“I’ve mostly been focused on helping women — since I am one,” she laughed. “They are disproportionately affected by some of these issues around lack of economic opportunity. But at the end of the day, I want a strong startup ecosystem and strong opportunity for both [men and women.]”
Finding ways to better connect the city as an innovation hub is also top of Pishny’s wish list for Kansas City, when compared to her former home ecosystem in Austin.
“If we can centralize some of our startups and provide a place for them to get started and work with one another and learn from each other and mentors [that would be ideal],” she said, acknowledging future projects she has planned with Google are expected to take aim at aligning the company’s policy priorities with community work focused on helping entrepreneurs build their businesses.
“I chose Kansas City for a reason. I could have easily gone back to Austin — I thought I would. I think this is a great time to be here and I’m excited to see how Kansas City’s startup ecosystem continues to mature and develop.”
Click here to connect with Pishny on Linkedin.