The UMKC Innovation Center has tapped Jill Meyer as the senior director of technology ventures. In this newly created role, Meyer will drive the strategic vision, direction and development of the center’s technology pillar and its position in the Kansas City tech sector.
Her role includes leading the center’s current early-venture initiatives, including Digital Sandbox KC, Whiteboard2Boardroom, KCInvestED and SBIR/STTR programs. Working to align those programs with the present and future needs of the tech community, Meyer will also map the center’s future role in engaging and elevating Kansas City’s tech ecosystem.
“New businesses, jobs—and good jobs—are key indicators of a strong economy,” Meyer says. “We need to continue to work, across the region, to build startup density, connectivity, inclusivity and the collaborations that will strengthen our tech community.”
The tech sector created 925 new jobs in Kansas City in 2018, trending upward from 2017, and offers first year-wages that are nearly double that of other new jobs.
Meyer will harness that momentum to build a stronger pipeline that will accelerate tech startups and support Kansas City’s entrepreneurs on their path to commercialization. That commitment, along with her experience with tech startups here and in Silicon Valley, is why the UMKC Innovation Center selected her to lead its technology initiatives.
“The UMKC Innovation Center has already created a solid foundation that connects entrepreneurs to resources, education and early-stage capital,” says 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?”
Meyer’s insight into the innovation ecosystem draws on decades’ worth of experience from both corporate and entrepreneurial worlds as a leader, business coach, marketing and human capital consultant and entrepreneurship ecosystem builder.
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,” Meyer says.
From business coaching, to serving on pitch panels, to her role as director of innovation for Missouri SBDCs across the state, Meyer is recognized as a go-to strategic resource and community connector for anyone starting a tech business. As a program director, she has a proven ability to turn a one-time opportunity into a sustainable and successful program. 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,” says 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 reminisces, “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 adds. “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. From whiteboard to boardroom to marketplace and beyond, the UMKC Innovation Center partners with the university and the community to advance entrepreneurship within our region and across the country.
DeHart leads the education pillar, which serves aspiring and established entrepreneurs from inception through maturity with a suite of high-caliber, high-impact training and coaching programs. Miller leads regional ecosystem development initiatives—KCSourceLink and its statewide expansion as MOSourceLink—to connect entrepreneurs to the right resources and develop stronger resources for entrepreneurship. Williams leads the SourceLink expansion pillar; his team provides consulting and tools to help cities, states and regions nationwide build better-connected and more cohesive infrastructures to spark, support and sustain entrepreneurship.
“All four of these directors lead exceptional teams, in the center and across the region, who are committed to supporting our doers, dreamers, innovators and job creators,” Maria Meyers says. “The depth of business management expertise and community connections coupled with our outstanding customer service and ability to move at the speed of business continues to make the UMKC Innovation Center the ‘go-to’ place for aspiring and existing business owners.”