Kathleen Warner ’92 gets things done. Under her leadership, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) developed and launched the first major jobs initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration: LifeSci NYC. In December 2016, as executive vice president and managing director of the NYCEDC’s Center for Urban Innovation, Warner spearheaded the groundbreaking $500 million initiative to boost the life sciences industry that aims to create 16,000 jobs and make New York City a hub for biotech companies. “This is one of the very strongest opportunities we have for growth in our economy,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement at the time it launched. The plan includes a $100 million applied life sciences campus, $50 million for a network of research facilities throughout the city, and $300 million in tax incentives to attract investment in life sciences businesses.
Groundbreaking work is nothing new for Warner. She has spent her career working at the intersection of technology, innovation, and public service, with an eye toward entrepreneurship and inclusion.
Prior to joining NYCEDC in January 2016, she was part of the founding team and COO of the Startup America Partnership, a public-private partnership created to bolster the post–financial crisis economy by supporting, catalyzing, and connecting the nation’s entrepreneurial ecosystems. Warner was deeply involved in all facets of the partnership, from building its brand; to executing a growth strategy; to working with sponsors, an all-entrepreneur board, and the key public partner: the White House. “There was this view at the time that entrepreneurship happens only in Silicon Valley, and our mission was to change that,” said Warner.
For three years, Warner worked to create a national network of startups and supply them with resources to grow and scale up. She found that what fueled innovation most was the presence of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. “For a startup to survive and grow, it needs the density of an ecosystem,” she said. With this knowledge, she created the Startup America Regions, which supported and connected entrepreneurial communities across the nation. Key to the success of the Regions was the engagement of entrepreneurial “champions” in each of the communities, and the establishment of regular Regional Summits, which brought together entrepreneurs and experts from across the country to share best practices in cities such as Nashville, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
I’m a lifelong believer in the old adage that with crisis comes opportunity."
It’s fitting that Warner’s recent work has been devoted to fueling innovation. From the beginning of her career, she has had the vision and drive to take her work in new and sometimes unexpected directions. After graduating from Brooklyn Law School, she clerked for Judge Allyne R. Ross in the Eastern District of New York and then spent six years as a litigator at Debevoise & Plimpton. Realizing law firm life wasn’t the best fit for her, she moved to Bear Stearns as a litigator focused on regulatory and advisory work. When the bank failed in 2008 during the financial crisis, Warner found herself at a crossroads. She had the option to work at J.P. Morgan, which bought Bear Stearns, but a friend, Jim Himes, was running for Congress in Connecticut and offered her a fundraising job. The job would last only about six months, but Warner couldn’t let the opportunity pass.
“I’m a lifelong believer in the old adage that with crisis comes opportunity,” she said. “I’ve done things where people say, ‘That’s ridiculous, you know nothing about that.’ And then I go and do it. I wake up every day and think about what impact I can make on the world.”
Warner and her team outraised every other challenger nationally that year, and Himes went on to beat a 22-year incumbent. Warner then ran the new congressman’s local constituent service and outreach offices for the next two years. “One of the things I realized when deciding whether to stay with J.P. Morgan or take the leap was this: I will figure it out,” she said. “I have immense trust in my own abilities, whether ones I have already or ones I will develop. My law degree gave me the tools to do this.”
Today, as the LifeSci NYC initiative gets underway around the city, Warner is seeking her next challenge. Although her work at the NYCEDC was incredibly satisfying, Warner recently left her post to pursue a new mission. “Something else is calling to me. I am not sure what it will be precisely, but it is going to be about creating that fertile ground where people feel inspired and powerful, not only individually but collectively, because that’s where things happen.”
—Andrea Strong ’94