Meet the Team: Carolyn Liikala
Q&A with Silicon Foundry’s Coverage Partner
Carolyn Liikala (@cliikala) is a Coverage Partner at Silicon Foundry, working closely with Members including Estee Lauder Companies, British Petroleum, Royal Bank of Scotland, and many others. Prior to joining Silicon Foundry, Carolyn was Director of Corporate Innovation Services at RocketSpace, a leading innovation services firm, accelerator and incubator. Carolyn launched and led a food & agriculture initiative, TERRA, a partnership between RocketSpace, Rabobank, Nestle and BASF. Previously, Carolyn launched and managed startup accelerator and incubator EvoNexus in Southern California, focused on bringing in corporate sponsors, strategic funding partners and portfolio startups.
Tell us about your career path — what are the key experiences that led you to Silicon Foundry?
I spent my formative years of life moving around and living abroad, which made me very comfortable with ambiguity and change. My appreciation of creative problem solving and new ideas drew me towards entrepreneurs early on. I subconsciously shaped my career around this mentality — working on enhancing businesses by making room for new ideas, perspectives and technologies to flourish.
Early in my career I was attracted to the adrenaline rush from the chaotic uncertainty of startup life and leaned deeply into it as a portfolio manager supporting startups as they scaled. Over time I found myself focusing on the role of incumbents in advancing new ideas and became fascinated by how corporations handle transformation as they seek to embrace emerging technologies.
Sitting between the institutional and the disruptive is extremely appealing to me. With that in mind, I decided to shift my focus from building early stage companies to corporate innovation. I launched several programs that bridged the gap between corporations and startups including incubators, accelerators, and labs and leveraged the corporate angle to learn and facilitate scale.
I’ve spent the past few years focused on deepening my understanding of corporate agility and the adoption of new technologies and thinking through new playbooks to support both. Silicon Foundry provided a platform to do just that, dive deep into corporations across diverse industries to support the adoption and scale of emerging technologies and impactful ideas.
Since joining Silicon Foundry, what excites you most about your role?
The most interesting part of my job is the diversity of companies I work with and the information flows I sit between. One day I am diving deep into the future of beauty and wellness and the next I’m rethinking the way the world moves with oil and gas companies.
I will spend one week interfacing with international government groups on instituting best practices to foster innovation and the next establishing partnerships with leading venture capital firms, accelerators and universities backing the development of ground-breaking technologies. What fascinates me most about my work with corporations is that while the work seems vastly diverse, the root problems we are solving (and solutions we consider) are often eerily similar, regardless of industry or focus.
The macro perspective that we obtain through our unique position in the ecosystem gives us space to see cross-industry correlations and encourages creative problem solving (e.g., microbiome or DNA analyses that yield personalized nutrition solutions may be equally as applicable to custom skin care or healthcare, alternative protein sources that address food sustainability and security may play an important role in mitigating climate change.
Can you tell us about some of the Member projects and initiatives you’re working on at the moment?
A few of my favorite projects include exploring wellness in the context of beauty — particularly around the shift from external appearance to internal and mental health. We are exploring if and how technology will play a role in this shift.
I am fascinated by the future of mobility, particularly as it relates to cities. Our member base includes a state government, a massive oil and gas company and an automobile manufacturer. The conversations I have through my work with these organizations has been truly eye opening — what’s next once cars are autonomous? Can we reverse the damage of climate change? How do we effectively layer ethics into AI behind self-driving cars?
I found my work with businesses seeking to automate internally very interesting as well. I’ve spent time understanding how factories work, how mail is delivered, how produce is preserved, how sugar is processed, how bugs are farmed and the list goes on. Virtually every process can be automated in some way, which is both an exciting and terrifying thought.
What sector or industry trend are you most fascinated by?
I don’t naturally gravitate towards one industry but have always felt that industries around livelihood, like nutrition and healthcare, provide me with a stronger sense of purpose. I constantly find myself reading about advances in computer-brain interfaces, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, facial recognition (particularly in the context of government surveillance) and cellular agriculture.
What I’m most interested in is understanding the implications of technology on human behavior and the roles of privacy and morality in our future societies. Along those lines, I’m curious about human fulfillment — understanding purpose, creativity and the elements that differentiate humans from other species and technology.