Katrin Holzhaus serves as senior vice president of innovation for the Greater Topeka Partnership. She brings more than 20 years of innovation and project management experience to the position. Katrin shared her thoughts with TK on what drew her to Topeka and the role of an innovation leader.
TK: What attracted you to Topeka?
KH: From my first conversations with the selection committee during my extensive interview process I was struck by the level of commitment to Topeka’s growth that everyone brought to the table. I was even more impressed when I realized after I started in my new position that this commitment exists everywhere in the city. Topeka has gained true momentum that brings different stakeholders together under one singular goal.
TK: Where do you see the best opportunities for innovation in Topeka?
KH: Topeka has great assets: seat of state government, corporate partners in fintech, insurance, animal health, leading institutions in healthcare, and Washburn University. The best opportunities for innovation will come from three sources:
- Better collaboration of innovation centers that are spread across different organizations.
- Supporting new innovative businesses.
- Attracting new innovative organizations to the area, capitalizing on Topeka’s central location in the Animal Health Corridor.
TK: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
KH: When building an organization, it is important to take people along on the ride. That means every member of an organization should have a part in building it through specific initiatives that are integral to the success of the whole team. Clear goals and objectives on an organizational level, department level and personal level help translate that organizational success into personal success and a sense of pride in the organization’s accomplishments.
TK: What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
KH: You can’t be afraid to fail. It goes against everything we are being taught growing up, but it is the essence of entrepreneurship and leadership. Every failure brings a learning experience, however showing vulnerability as a leader is hard, sometimes controversial. It requires a cultural shift. The most successful organizations have leaders who are not afraid to admit that they don’t have all the answers but who inspire others to work towards a common goal and find the answers along the way.
TK: What is the secret to being innovative?
KH: The secret to being innovative is singular focus. For example, if your goal is to focus on your customer, find new ways to solve problems for your customer. You also need to approach this focus from different angles in an interdisciplinary way. There is a reason why innovation centers all over the country are creating spaces that provide opportunities for serendipitous encounters of people of diverse backgrounds and experiences—and use these connections that no one would have thought of to spark new ideas. That’s what we are building for Topeka.
TK: What can other businesses do to help business growth in our community?
KH: The first thought that comes to mind is for local businesses to get more involved with young people (high schoolers and college students) to show them how they can develop ideas for businesses in the future. Internships are a great way to accomplish that or mentoring in business plan competitions. After all, innovation comes from talent and we need to strengthen our talent pipeline in Topeka.