Member’s Corner: Karen Zuccardi
1.Name, Title, Organization:
Karen Zuccardi, Manager Rural Business Innovation Initiative (RBII), TEDCO
2. Explain your background in economic development:
I embarked on my career in economic development during my graduate studies at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in 2017. I was working in international business development when I decided to pursue my master’s in Public Service. At first, I was not sure how my business background was going to help me as a public servant, but my ability to understand business and business development in the private sector turned out to be very valuable in economic development.
In the Spring of 2018, I conducted the Clinton School’s International Project Service in Bali, Indonesia, at a startup that developed sustainable packages made from renewable and natural ingredients. My role was to write a business plan for this company’s expansion in the US and South America. During my three-month stay in Bali, I connected with numerous stakeholders in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, solidifying my interest in empowering startups and entrepreneurs. In 2019, I joined an organization dedicated to promoting economic growth in Arkansas. My job centered on fostering entrepreneurship in rural areas. I helped manage virtual startup accelerators throughout the Mississippi Delta Region, providing resources and mentoring opportunities to underrepresented communities. I also co-founded the first social entrepreneurship committee at the Clinton School, which allowed me to have an official place to ask questions, bring guests in, and educate myself and others on how we can solve social and environmental problems through entrepreneurship. My time in Arkansas helped me better understand how the system works (and doesn’t work) and how entrepreneurship can be an excellent tool for economic development.
I started my job at TEDCO in 2022 as the Manager for the Rural Business Innovation Initiative (RBII). In my current role, I mentor entrepreneurs from six rural counties in Maryland: Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford, Cecil, and Kent. I also bring support and opportunities for collaboration to TEDCO’s ecosystem partners.
3. What are your key priorities within your current position?
As part of my role at TEDCO, I am dedicated to bridging the gap between underrepresented communities and our resources and mentoring opportunities. Our aim at TEDCO is to ensure that all tech entrepreneurs across the state have access to our support, regardless of their location. At RBII, I mentor entrepreneurs working in areas like nanotechnology, SaaS platforms, AI, VR, IoT, biotech, and many others. It is exciting to see remarkable entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and life experiences changing the world daily.
4. Does one particular project spark your excitement?
If so, describe it below. I am still relatively new in my role, so it is hard to pick one specific project that sparks my excitement. I love everything I do! As a natural problem-solver, I look forward to developing more relationships to help us better serve those who need it most.
5. What professional pressures keep you up at night?
I am quite interested in building structures and support systems so Maryland’s underrepresented entrepreneurs can increase their participation in the state’s innovation economy. Since I am constantly visiting my territories and ecosystem partners, while also being in close contact with our RBII entrepreneurs, I am in the unique position of listening to the stories of those communities whose voices are often not heard. What keeps me up at night is how I will use this information to develop future approaches to these problems.
6. What attributes are unique to your community?
TEDCO’s RBII program is unique in the fact that it was developed with the intentionality of breaking barriers down in Rural Maryland. Some people might think of rural communities as challenging areas for economic development, but I see problems as opportunities to make things better. Remote communities have great potential, but they need people and organizations that believe in them, and TEDCO does our part every day through the RBII program.
7. What are your locality’s top three “selling points” for future growth?
Affordable cost of living and land, diversity of people and ideas, and the ability to be in and out of urban areas in Maryland in a short amount of time. Maryland is a state that has a lot to offer, and our rural communities are no exception.
8. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to work with MEDA on to move Maryland forward?
I would love to bring more awareness to supporting inclusive entrepreneurship in the state. Maryland is one of the most diverse states in the country, and diversity brings many opportunities for us to think outside the box and be innovative. Let’s use this asset to position Maryland as a global leader in equitech!
9. Please include any personal background information that you’d like to share (Alma mater, Military Service, hobbies, etc):
I have a bachelor’s degree in International Economics and Commerce from Lafayette College in Easton, PA. During my master’s degree program at the Clinton School of Public Service, I focused my studies on sustainable economic development and social entrepreneurship. I am incredibly passionate about my work, and I cherish the support (big and small) that I can provide to our tech entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Fun things about me: I am a certified advanced open-water scuba diver, I love horseback riding, I backpacked Southeast Asia for seven months, and I have had the opportunity to visit over 30 countries worldwide. I am a world explorer, and I enjoy learning about new cultures and new ways of thinking. I believe in a world of endless possibilities and work hard to bring this message to those I have the privilege to serve.