Kimberly Gramm is the Associate Vice President, Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Texas Tech’s Innovation Hub at Research Park.
The Innovation Hub at Research Park is a world class facility with the goal of launching and accelerating start ups in West Texas.
At the helm is Gramm, who lands on our top list of for Woman on the Rise in West Texas. Take a look at her Q&A below:
Talk about your journey?
So how about if I pick it up from the fact that I grew up in a very entrepreneurial community with my dad being an engineer and entrepreneur, but I never thought that I’d be in the work that I do now. I went through grad school, thought I was going to pursue a big corporate career, which I did. I was a corporate strategist for UPS, out of grad school. And for those of you who don’t know UPS, they have 457,000 employees and they don’t make decisions about strategy, without thinking a lot about. I had a great experience there, and then the leap came from my dad’s passing. Which essentially gave me an opportunity to learn about the technologies and the intellectual property that he had created and I went through sort of succession planning with his leadership team, which brought me back to Florida.
I had been living in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where UPS is headquartered. When I went back to Florida and started to pursue opportunities I saw an opportunity at a university to create a strategy for an Entrepreneurship Center. Given that I was in involved in lots of strategy development, I thought I could put a great plan together. Low and behold, I started my career in academia, without any aspirations really or formal focus on my education process to become a leader in academia. When I became the center director I developed a lot of significant programming that caught the eye of our president at that university. I then had the opportunity to put together a proposal, go to the capital of Florida, and ask the governor to support building an accelerator.
The next chapter
That was a really interesting learning process because state funding is very complex and how universities make those decisions. Long-story short was, we were able to receive funding and build the accelerator, which really was the roadmap to, I think the opportunity here at Texas Tech and so very few women have had opportunities in a male dominated industry which is the entrepreneurial startup and financial space. I was able to leverage my corporate strategy experience with my experience growing up in an entrepreneurial environment where I could put together a cohesive plan and strategy that would develop support for students, faculty and people in the community to have access to resources needed to aspire to do the American dream. So that’s been my journey.
Why is innovation and entrepreneurship a passion of yours?
I think you are who you are as a function of how you grew up. Your environment, the people that you associate with, and I’m no different than that. My dad was an engineer, and he used to experiment all the time in the house. He had a manufacturing company and used to bake things in the oven and see how metals reacted with the paint. This experimentation environment is something that’s normal to me. Maybe not to most, but it was fun and he would also ask my opinion on things.
When I see people, students, faculty, experimenting at the innovation hub or at a great university like Texas Tech, it’s normal for me to be inquisitive about what they’re doing and appreciate how hard they worked at creating something. That’s sort of I think how I developed an interest and really a passion because when people are trying to create things, they’re at their best. And when you’re a part of that, it’s really inspiring to help people realize their dreams. But to me it’s a lot of fun and it’s where the essence of life really is.
You recently were promoted to Associate Vice President of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. How has this impacted you professionally and personally?
Wow. Well, first I was humbled by it, but I think that when women get an opportunity, they rise to the occasion. And what this role has done is allowed me to have a platform that, we can place Texas Tech on. Through lots of hard work, teamwork and great leadership at Texas Tech, you can build capacity for what the future holds. Personally, I think, to have a seat at the table is empowering because, unfortunately, again in what we do in entrepreneurship, men tend to dominate in those kinds of areas because they’re more associated with risk taking than women are.
Not only does it put Texas Tech on a great platform, but it also puts women on a great platform. I love the fact that women building community, and great entrepreneurial efforts will come from the way women come together and support each other and support men as well in these kinds of endeavors.
I think about those things and not to say that my peers and colleagues don’t, but I’m very, very much into with the needs of how entrepreneurial dynamics works and how growth happens through the connectivity in community. That’s why I think West Texas is going to lead this area in the not-too -distant future.
Can you describe your recent appointment by Governor Abbott?
I was appointed to the Product Development and Small Business Incubator board, and how exciting was that! I think that happened on my birthday this year so that was an extra special treat. Any chance that I get to serve on behalf of West Texas and Texas Tech University is truly an honor. I think that it gives us a voice out in West Texas about needing resources.
When entrepreneurs, inventors, and creators, are striving to create value in the things that they’re developing, you need resources, and that’s not always just money. It’s mentoring that is connection to the marketplace. It’s lots of things that really help people to stimulate momentum in creating something that can potentially be successful. So, it really just helps shine a light in an area where there’s a lot of people that work really hard. I’m honored to be able to bring resources.
What would your advice to other women who aspire to make a difference in their respective industries be?
My advice is pretty simple. I have three things that I think about when I speak to young women and women at large.
The first thing is, trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in an organization is built on competency. And so I think my specific advice would be to have great skills. Do something you’re really good at, because people will notice. When you’re building trust in an organization and as you become a leader, people need to have trust. That is defined by your competencies. You’re always wanting to allow people to think that you’re capable and so have great skills. They can be accounting skills, graphic design skills, something thats sort of core that you can always fall back on.
The second thing is teamwork. There’s a saying teamwork makes the dream work. Don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Very often in my past, you know I’m sort of type A, and thought I had to do everything myself. What you’re passionate about and what is important to you should be externalized, and you should be on a team. When a team works really well the entire team goes to the next level. Then the company does well, it’s sort of like, there’s these concentric circles. You don’t have to do everything alone. Quite frankly, when you think about externalizing what you’re great at, it builds great teamwork and so that’s really important.
And then the last thing is, believe in yourself. Self confidence is critical for career success. You know, there’s been plenty of studies out there where they research men and women. Quite often men might not have even 40 or 50% of the skills for the next job that they go after. Women believe they need to have 100% of all of the job requirements to be a great candidate. That’s just simply not true, because you’re more than your job, if you think about it more holistically, you’re a person. You have things that you do in the community, you have friends, and people that believe in you, care about you, you’re just more than your job.
If there’s something out there that you want to explore, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone is really important. For others to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself first. And here’s a funny thing now, they say fear is false evidence appearing real. If you’re not confident and you’re afraid to try, then those things will pass you up. So get outside your comfort zone, by believing in yourself.
What do you like about being part of West Texas, and Texas Tech?
That’s a really good question. All my friends in Florida thought I was crazy leaving the beach because I grew up on the water. I got to a point in my career where if I was going to take the next step, I needed to grow. It was a perfect time, with a perfect opportunity, and Texas Tech wanted to grow. They had made some investments in what they wanted to do as it relates to innovation and entrepreneurship.
As I sit in front of you today, I look back at when I first came on board in April of 2016. I can say that I didn’t really understand the level of collaboration and community I would experience. So looping back to this community piece. It’s everything. People care about each other here. They care deeply for, you know, their neighbors, and the people that they work with. They tend to roll up their sleeves versus telling you that you can’t do something. I think that’s the spirit of West Texas.
I’ve lived in lots of different places and been exposed to lots of different communities. It is definitely the strength of something that is very much, I believe, a key differentiator in how we will build innovation and entrepreneurship into the culture. Because people have that sort of legacy. And it’s exciting to be a part of it. They’re welcoming, and I feel like I’m one of them. I wasn’t born here so that’s pretty special to me.
For more articles on amazing women in West Texas, check out our last interview with Marsha Sharp.