January 30, 2023
5 min

A Conversation with Robyn Brazzil, FedTech's Newest Partner

Meet Robyn Brazzil, FedTech's newest partner. She brings unique experience in innovation, entrepreneur program development, and leadership. Making contributions to the company in leading Startup Studios and Diversity Equity Inclusion and Accessibility (DEI&A) initiatives, her work has left an impact on the way FedTech democratizes Deep Tech.

We sat down with Robyn to understand her pathway to FedTech and how important she is to FedTech’s DNA:

Q: Robyn, congratulations on your promotion to Partner at FedTech. It is well deserved after your impressive tenure. How did you start with FedTech and why?

A: I started with FedTech about two-and-a-half years ago – before that I was working for New York University (NYU) in Abu Dhabi - and I had fallen in love working at the earliest stages of technology commercialization in partnership with faculty. Much of my work in the UAE focused on building accessible ecosystems for underrepresented and diverse communities – particularly for engaging women in entrepreneurship.  The complexity of the pathways to commercialize research were challenging in the region, and I was doing my own research on models like the U.S. SBIR process and tech transfer methods - structures that could fill gaps towards R&D development and commercialization. In that process, I found FedTech. I was shocked to see the work they were doing across DOE, DOD, VA, and NASA that was solving this critical gap of translating research into the hands of capable entrepreneurs - and doing it in a way that was completely accessible. This aligned with my own personal mission when it came to working with researchers and creating pathways to entrepreneurship for diverse communities.  This, on top of FedTech having a very timely opportunity to fit within the team and lead the Startup Studio programs.

Q: You are responsible for scaling the Startup Studios Program, one of FedTech’s largest product offerings. How did that come to fruition and how has it expanded?

A:  I came into what already was an established and successful Startup Studio model – at the time FedTech was shifting and realizing, through its success at smaller scales, that they were ready to launch and go from up to 20 teams per year and accelerate quickly up to 55. That was a really exciting time to join – with so many cohorts and teams – to rapidly iterate the model and make process improvements for expanding our entrepreneur recruiting capabilities.  Importantly, we expanded the program itself from an eight week sprint to a two-phased 16-20 week model which covered content from pathways to commercialization to pathways to company formation. I definitely can’t take credit for creating the Startup Studio model –  when I came in, however, I made recommendations together with the rest of the team to scale our solution and increase our impact when it comes to the number of teams that advance to form companies and form agreements with our lab partners. Additionally, the Technology Partnerships team was spun out from Startup Studios, led by Ian Ryu, which has strengthened the partnerships with our lab partners and allowed us to form a strong early funnel to the studios programs.

Q: FedTech experienced exponential growth in 2022. What was your role in the expansion?

A: There were some significant projects that came off the back of all the work that previously had been done over the past 5-6 years that allowed us to grow. One of the big ones on the Startup Studios side were offshoots like DOE Boost Platform that we are just kicking off in support of Sandia National Laboratories – where we were able to build on learnings from our previous work with clients like DOE – and have more of an intentional regional focus. So, setting up a New Mexico regional presence was one of my focuses this year as well.  We also had, in our Startup Studio, an intentional focus on biotech in 2022 for the first time. So while we had amazing growth, 2022 was also a lot of experimentation in terms of where we can focus strategically in 2023 and beyond.

Q: Why the Deep Tech space?

A: I think again, it goes back to the time that I've spent in this space of innovation and entrepreneurship – finding potential exponential impact to some of society’s biggest problems is just a space that I gravitate towards – and being a natural problem solver, knowing the higher risk and all of the obstacles on that journey for a deep tech startup to become realized and have the impact that we want when it comes to some of our climate goals and national security goals – it was just the risk taker, the problem solver in me that definitely wants to be in this space where the ultimate reward is deeply fulfilling.

Q: You have been a leader in FedTech’s DEI&A initiatives. What is the driver behind that?

A: Again, it's a personal driver, seeing and experiencing the benefits of diversity in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity prior to FedTech where I experienced the real value of having a team of 10 represented from seven different countries, gender parity, and racial and ethnic diversity. I saw the true power of that diversity being a leader of that team leveraging the collective lived experiences and cultures that were also reflected in the communities we served in our programs. With FedTech, seeing how we could enhance diversity in the deep tech space – where that subset of the community doesn’t represent the diversity of our general communities and population – you see the statistics everywhere and we know where the significant gaps are in creating more DEI&A. But what keeps my focused in this space in particular is that if we close some of these gaps by “expanding the pie” so to speak – if we can give more access to more entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds – access to the same tools, resources and opportunities – then we are more likely to solve some of these really big problems in climate, health and national security and do it faster by having more people at the table sharing a diversity of thought, perspectives and opportunities.

Q: How has your experience in law and your work for NYUAD contributed to your success at FedTech?

A: So, this is where Ben and Jake might joke that I am our free in-house counsel, but my experience as an attorney definitely helps me when I'm thinking about framing problems. There are many similarities that I didn't really appreciate until I became well versed in the lean startup methodology that we teach in our customer discovery modules. It's very similar to my work as a trial attorney, preparing for a case or a deposition, thinking through a particular problem from the viewpoints of all of the people involved in the case and questioning them to understand their role – all the way to getting to the heart of the case. So, my initial training in law definitely helped me become more of an expert in what we teach at FedTech. There were a lot of similar skill sets when it came to how we interact with our clients and what we teach our entrepreneurs.

In terms of the work that I did at NYUAD, we had programs that were very similar to FedTech in a sense – programs that were across a spectrum and intended to support an entrepreneur’s journey from idea to launch. So, NYUAD was where I really got an opportunity to try my hand at program design. I did a lot of work with corporations that were trying to spin up innovation arms and engage startups for the first time, working with companies at incubation stage – early startups with student collaboration. I had the opportunity to test and pilot a lot of different programs, a lot of different processes and program elements that are relevant to FedTech. This experience transferred into the work that we do at FedTech and then was complemented by the understanding I gained of the deep tech landscape in the U.S.

Q: How do you envision FedTech evolving in the short-term and long-term?

A: In the short-term, FedTech is evolving from the startup stage into a larger organization. With that transformation comes the benefit of growing our team via different development pathways and professional learning and growth opportunities. In the short term we're going to find our focus when it comes to deep tech areas that we want to impact – whether that’s climate, biotech, national security – formalizing our focus in the next year. We will also define, as an organization, how we can continue to offer value to our clients, creating more differentiation via the deep tech areas we impact. Also near term, we have regional expansion opportunities. I’m very excited about having an impact in regions that are not traditionally served – neither in terms of entrepreneurial activities, nor the benefits from technologies that are the result of those entrepreneurial activities. So, I'm very excited to see a roadmap for expanding FedTech’s presence in these regions where we can marry our approach to entrepreneurship, and the technologies that satisfy needs and opportunities for deep tech in regional communities.

In the long-term, we are going to stay true to our mission, becoming the global deep tech innovation platform focused on solving global challenges across climate, energy, health and national security. We’re already set up to have the processes and the programs to support all innovation stages, from seed to scale. In the long run, that systematic process and approach will allow us to take advantage of all of the work that we have done – putting the pieces together and growing significantly to have not just a national but a global reach.

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