By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Tricia Martinez, an experienced serial entrepreneur who most recently has been serving as a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has been named Managing Director for the just announced “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator.”
The Chicago resident who will be relocating to Knoxville was formally introduced yesterday afternoon during a session of the “Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit” held on the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville campus and also delivered virtually. Earlier in the day, Martinez met for about an hour with members of the Innov865 Alliance Steering Committee and several local entrepreneurs.
“I’m ecstatic to be here,” she told the morning gathering at the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials at the UT Research Park. A serial entrepreneur who sold her most recent start-up, Martinez developed and executed climate change strategies centered around artificial intelligence and innovation and also studied innovation districts during her DOE tenure. In that role, she worked closely with DOE’s 17 national laboratories to bring technologies of the future like artificial intelligence, quantum, cleantech, and advanced manufacturing to market faster.
She told the morning session attendees that her DOE work included discussions with Thomas Zacharia, Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where she gained greater insights into the region’s assets and the aspirations of the leaders of the three organizations that are funding the Techstars Accelerator.
Ironically or probably most important, Martinez knows Techstars from another perspective, having participated in the 2016 cohort of London Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, with her blockchain-enabled financial services platform company, Wala.
“It was the best three months of my life,” she said in describing the hard work, but rewarding outcome that she achieved during the program. Her motivation for applying and eventually joining the London-based Techstars program was to access Barclays Bank for her fintech start-up, and she feels the same sort of magnetic attraction to assets at UT, ORNL and TVA will draw start-ups here.
In fact, she described ORNL as a “candy store for entrepreneurs.”
“This accelerator is going to attract a global audience (because) it’s about the future,” she said. “My role is to engage with the outside world and bring them (start-ups) here.” As such, much of her time over the next few months will be focused on recruiting applicants for the first cohort that will begin January 27. Applications will open next month.
That said, Martinez understands the importance of engagement with the community to not only gain broad-based support, but also to ensure that the community benefits from the investment that UT, TVA and ORNL are making.
“The Techstars program will shine a light and start things,” she said. “The community has the opportunity to define what this ecosystem looks like in the future. I’m here to work with you guys. The only way this will be successful is as a community effort.”
Over the past decade, Martinez worked on the ground in Sub-Saharan Africa and designed cryptocurrency products, personal financial management tools, cash transfer mechanisms and more for underserved consumers. While spending her career in the financial inclusion space, she says that she has been exposed to the deeply rooted complexities and barriers in the financial systems.
From yesterday morning’s conversation and during a discussion at lunch, it is clear that Martinez is passionate about the environment, underserved populations such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa, and driving large scale impact through technology and innovation. Over her relatively young professional career, she has earned a number of recognitions including “Top 20 Founders of Color” by Conscious Company Magazine, “Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year” by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a “Top 100 FinTech Leader,” and “100 Most Influential People in Cryptocurrency.”
That work includes being a Co-Founder of Nuevo Labs in Chicago; Founder of Shift in Kampala, Uganda; Director of The Dala Foundation in the Cayman Islands; and Senior Advisor at the Financial Health Network.
On her LinkedIn page, Martinez describes herself this way: “I’ve spent my career in the impact space because I am passionate about helping others and using technology to change the world. My most recent company, Wala, enables consumers around the world to move money anywhere instantly at no cost through a blockchain solution. Technology is exponential and that gives me hope for the future. As a social innovator I have always seen technology as a tool to scale real-world impact mainly for the underserved.”
Click here to read our article about the Techstars announcement.