Five Questions For … Chelsea Collier, Smart Cities Advocate in Austin

Austin—Call her the accidental innovator.

Chelsea Collier didn’t set out to be part of Austin’s innovation ecosystem, she says, adding that “it just sort of evolved over time through a sense of curiosity.”

After working in a variety of marketing roles, including a job with the Office of the Governor for the State of Texas, Collier served as executive director of Texas for Economic Progress until 2015. It was then that she became a co-founder of Impact Hub, an Austin-based branch of Impact Hub International, which is a social venture incubator and co-working space.

“Innovation and technology is just a way to optimize our current experience,” Collier explains. “We are at this time when technology can be leveraged to help humanity. It’s the people part that fuels my interest.”

Today, after having spent a year as an Eisenhower Fellow, Collier is involved in the Smart Cities movement. An effort she’s following is in Dallas, which is working on an intelligent light project that enables environmental sensors to measure pollutants, humidity, allergen levels, and other factors, among other projects.

Last spring, the Dallas Innovation Alliance launched a “Living Lab” in the city’s West End district along with telecom giant AT&T. The plan is that all of the data collected, which is owned by the city of Dallas, will be crunched to see how effectively the city operates.

“The more people that are innovating on top of the data that’s being derived from these sensors—will then come jobs, will then come investment, will then come an increase in GDP,” said Mike Zito, general manager of AT&T Smart Cities in a Dallas Business Journal article last March.

In this week’s “Five Questions For …,” Collier speaks about the importance of female role models in the professional world, her focus on optimizing rather than perfection, and the joy of running in the woods with friends. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: Tell me about your early influences.

Chelsea Collier: My early influences, the people that I really look to and sought examples from were women in the professional world—my mom being one of them; my aunt being one of them. I always looked around for other professional women. Unfortunately, a lot of the time where I found them was in the media, on TV. I watched very carefully how they represented themselves, how they created their own space, like Susan Dey in “LA Law.” I had no intention of being a lawyer but I looked at how she could command a space and said, ‘One day I want to do that.’

I don’t think it was a conscious choice [to seek out female role models.] I knew what I gravitated toward and what I thought was interesting. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to create something. Just being able to navigate your life and not have to follow rules set in places, by society or tradition. I certainly wasn’t a … Next Page »

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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