Jill Ford Scores New Tech Investing Gig with Toyota AI Ventures

Jill Ford, the city of Detroit’s former head of entrepreneurship and innovation, says she was already interested in the mobility field when she landed a new job last month with Toyota AI Ventures, the Silicon Valley-based investment arm of the Toyota Research Institute.

“After hearing about Toyota AI Ventures and its mission, I was fascinated by a fund dedicated to mobility in areas that are not fully defined,” she adds.

In particular, Ford was attracted to the mobility technologies that would, for example, allow disabled people to get around more easily. The fund’s dedication to life-improving tech also reminded her of the work she was doing in Detroit.

“I’m interested in helping people who might feel like stuff is beyond their reach,” Ford says. “As a person who had people in the family that were disabled, I know the everyday difficulties people can experience. The thought that, through innovation, we can help people feel empowered and have access to mobility to feel independent is dear to my heart.”

As part of her new job as a principal with the fund, she’ll look for startups to back and will help grow Toyota AI Ventures’ existing portfolio companies. The fund focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous mobility, data, and cloud technology companies.

Ford is originally from New Jersey, but she now considers herself a Detroiter. “I’ve been adopted,” she laughs. She’ll continue volunteering her services to the city, she says, as an expat-in-residence. She’s also a member of the TechTown Detroit board as well as a mentor for the Techstars Mobility program.

Ford joined Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration in 2014 and oversaw the launch of the Motor City Match program, a city-run service that connects entrepreneurs with vacant commercial real estate and awards grants to small businesses that might not be able to get traditional bank loans. As of October, the program had distributed $4.4 million to more than 100 businesses. She has also worked on the annual Detroit Homecoming events.

Ford says in 2018, she wants to “get the fund in front of as many entrepreneurs as possible and enable them to get to market. The set of areas we’re looking at are evolving so quickly. Now, we’re really seeing the boundaries and definitions, the adjacencies and interconnections. I’m looking forward to diving deeper.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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