Fourteen years ago, Rebecca Robinson was an undergraduate student at Kansas State University who started a job as an intern for K-State Innovation Partners.
“Today, our role is really three main functions for the university,” Robinson said. “The first is technology commercialization, so we protect and commercialize any new innovation or intellectual property that’s generated by the university. … The second main function is economically based corporate engagement, so in that role we are working to connect the universities capabilities and capacity to the private sector and building partnerships. … The third function is economic development.”
For Robinson, the organization is where she started her career.
“I was self-funding my college education, so I interned for Innovation Partners my senior year as a marketing intern and communications intern,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she planned to leave Manhattan and move to Kansas City after graduation, but her managers and CEO Kent Glasscock convinced her to stay.
“I thought that I’d stay a couple of years and then go on and do some graduate work, go to grad school and eventually come back to academia,” Robinson said. “But, my plan was not to stay for certain and then I blinked and 14 years went by.”
Now she is the chief corporate engagement and economic development officer for K-State Innovations Partners. Robinson is prepared to take on the role of CEO after Glasscock retires, she said.
“I think the greatest strength that I’m bringing to this role is really relationship building and being a team player,” Robinson said. “Having been at K-State for the last 14 years, I’ve had the opportunity to build really strong relationships across campus and I believe we have become a trusted partner both on campus and off.”
Jason Smith, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said Robinson has worked on many community projects since he was appointed four years ago.
“Our organization is the lead economic development entity for Manhattan, so the relationship with the university is one of the most important that we have, and Kent and Rebecca were the leads on that so early on,” Smith said. “When I met Rebecca I found her to be incredibly impressive and effective, and I was really excited to get the opportunity to work with her and the entire staff over there.”
Robinson has always been very involved with the community, Smith said.
“She was one of the inaugural class of our 15 Under 40 which recognized 15 individuals under the age of 40 who are making an impact in the region,” Smith said.
Smith’s most recent project alongside Glasscock and Robinson is facilitating a plan for economic prosperity within the Manhattan area.
“We’re all working together right now to try to create a better ecosystem in the Manhattan area for entrepreneurs, and so tonight [March 21] we’ll be together at the City Commission working on creating a new fund for entrepreneurs,” Smith said.
Robinson said she believes the university and Manhattan are building momentum.
“It still feels like there’s so much more to do and so that’s what has kept me really in this organization and optimistic about the future,” Robinson said.
As CEO, Robinson said she wants to continue to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at K-State, and to connect both the private sector and the economy to the university.
“I think it’s impossible to separate the future of K-State and Kansas,” Robinson said. “So, I feel like our organization has a strong role to play and how we achieve that vision for K-State.”
As a K-State alumna, Robinson said her work for the community at K-State Innovations Partners is personal.
“I think a lot of the folks here including myself don’t just view this as a job or a profession, but we see it as a personal responsibility to our alma mater and a responsibility to our state and our constituents,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the K-State Innovations Partners has built an internal community that is crucial in its success as they move forward.
“It’s important to note that we have a really strong team of professionals here, many of whom also started as interns in the same era that I did and have really come up together in this organization,” Robinson said. “Keeping that team has been really important to our success.”
Smith said he looks forward to seeing Robinson as CEO as they continue to collaborate on community projects.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Smith said. “I think it’s well deserved and she’s done a tremendous job for the organization and been incredibly loyal over the years. It’s great to see hard work get rewarded, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.”