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Kimberly Jenkins is a vocal advocate for women business owners. She is the former program director for the Duke in Silicon Valley Initiative and the co-founder of SOAR, a Google-funded initiative to help more Triangle women succeed in entrepreneurship.

The Delaware native first came to North Carolina to attend Duke University as an undergraduate student. She earned a bachelor’s in biology in 1976 and a doctorate in higher education administration in 1980 from Duke.

Kimberly’s first job was working for what was then a tiny company called Microsoft, creating the company’s education division. She left Bill Gates’ company and moved to Silicon Valley when Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs launched NeXT and recruited her to work on third-party software development.

Then she went to Washington, DC, where she led an Internet policy think tank before she returned to the area in 2003 to work for her alma mater as a professor and eventually assistant to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Kimberly created and launched an innovation and entrepreneurship initiative for Duke. With help from faculty, staff, students and alumni across the nation, Kimberly built an institution-wide initiative that has put Duke and Durham on the map for top notch entrepreneurship.

“I have built a connection between RTP and Silicon Valley,” Kimberly explains. “I call it a two-way bridge. I take students out there to study innovation and get internships and jobs in Silicon Valley. But I also do the reverse and bring people back to the Park. Part of what distinguishes our region is that there’s more diversity in RTP than in Silicon Valley.”

“Our students say that while many would eventually like to come back to the Research Triangle Park area, they want to spend some time in Silicon Valley to learn from the Mark Zuckerbergs of entrepreneurship,” Kimberly says.

Kimberly focuses on building a robust ecosystem for all entrepreneurs, including women and minorities.  “We are putting out the welcome mat to include a diverse range of people solving a much more diverse range of problems,” she says.

Julia Grumbles, the former interim vice chancellor for UNC development, says Kimberly is generous with her knowledge, time and contacts when it comes to helping young women create their own businesses. Kimberly works with women students from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

One of those women is Shruti Shah, co-founder and chief operating officer of Move Loot, an online market place for buying and selling used furniture with an office in RTP. “I actually met Kimberly in college when I was in the UNC’s Women in Entrepreneurship program,” Ms. Shah says. “Kimberly became an extraordinary mentor. She’s incredibly thoughtful and helps you navigate the process of what it means to be a woman in business. She offers advice broader than just the business side. She talks with you about work/life balance. How do you prioritize? She also has a great network. Kimberly connects people who share similar interests or who can help each other.”

Kimberly applies that same passion to the Research Triangle Foundation board. “I bring the perspective of lot of people who don’t have a voice in the room,” Kimberly says. “I advocate for women. My area of expertise is marketing. I’ve always been open-minded, creative and inclusive of all people.”

Kimberly likes that the RTP is producing entrepreneurs coming up with innovative ideas ranging from medical devices to healthy food and beverages, people like Duke graduate Tatiana Birgisson, who started the successful healthy energy drink brand Mati.

“We are distinguishing ourselves in ways other regions aren’t,” Kimberly says. When she reads about women business owners having a hard time in another part of the country, she calls them and invites them to consider the Triangle.

“I think we should do a road trip and tell people in others cities what we are doing. This is a great place to move. We are welcoming.”