Get To Know Connect’s Springboard Senior Director
Since joining Connect in 2012, it has been a truly exciting journey to be immersed in the innovation community and experience firsthand how the San Diego ecosystem has grown and continues to flourish. I have met amazing entrepreneurs, big dreamers, resilient leaders, and inspiring community builders. Over the course of this time, I’ve developed and lead, together with amazing teammates, over 15 separate and unique Connect programs and offerings, and built countless relationships to expand the culture of collaboration which is so very unique to San Diego.
In my current role as Springboard Senior Director, I work with innovation startups in the life science and hi-tech sectors, providing guidance and advice, connecting them to resources, and helping them move forward on their entrepreneurial journey. It is very rewarding to make an impact on these companies, help them as they grow and scale. In addition, I spearheaded and launched from the ground up, a Springboard Program specifically designed for early-stage life science companies from the City of Yokohama, Japan. The program is delivered virtually, and we recently welcomed our fourth cohort.
Prior to joining Connect, I was Principal Investigator and Research Faculty in academia. It was in this career that my entrepreneurial mindset really got serious … working across disciplines and departments and with industry, I secured funding through the competitive grant process to develop multiple new research initiatives. As an intrapreneur, I managed budgets, operations and my team; executed marketing strategies (it’s called publish or perish in academia); built partnerships and of course, carried out research. While trained as a scientist, I have the mindset of an entrepreneur, and the experience of an intrapreneur. Always curious, always learning.
My life has certainly taken the path less traveled. Growing up we moved around quite a bit. My dad was an engineer and inventor, and later co-founded a cryogenics company; my mom was an accounting wiz and small business owner. I was bitten by the travel bug early in life with my parents exposing us kids to different cultures, languages and mannerisms. With such changing environments, code-switching taught me the skill to observe and take in my surroundings and the people I interacted with, to be able to better understand and relate to them. Family gatherings were often akin to a mini United Nations … friends and strangers coming together, bridging cultures, and sharing a good meal.
Getting good grades was a given in my family and it was expected I would go to college, the first in my family. I received a full scholarship to UC Irvine (go Anteaters) where I started as an undeclared major, not quite knowing which path to pursue: science/medicine or linguistics/art. I loved learning it all! Enrolling in core classes that covered both paths during my first year and a half was tough, to say the least, but helped me decide: science won. Like most students, I held various jobs along the way … from teaching business English at an interpreter’s school, working at The Magic Kingdom, customer service/sales roles at various small businesses, to working with a budding artist mixing cement by hand for outdoor sculptures. Always curious, always learning.
Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology I knew I wanted to get into research … and see the world! So I moved to Europe to pursue my graduate studies. In graduate school it was pretty much the norm to be one of only a small handful of other female students in class. But hey, I got to work with inventors and their prototypes, meet students and domain experts from around the world, and be exposed, AND, be part of, ground-breaking research and novel technologies. And travel.
A defining moment came when my main professor changed the focus of my doctoral dissertation, and indicated it was up to me to figure out what to do and how to do it … and come back when I’ve gotten some solid data. Being thrown into such a non-structured environment was totally unfamiliar. But, being used to challenges, I quickly learned how to develop strategies and processes, how to implement them, and how to execute them in order to carry out my research objectives. Little did I know then that this crash course would prepare me very well for all subsequent career roles which, too, would be in non-structured and often chaotic environments. I earned Master of Science and Doctoral degrees in Biology, both from the University of Kiel. Always curious, always learning.
A Thai Picnic
A Spanish Picnic
An Italian Picnic
A Hawaiian Picnic
It is through travel that one better understands oneself, other people, and humanity. Hitchhiking and train-traveling in Europe, living the van life for five months while exploring the Western U.S. and the Last Frontier, taking a bush taxi in Sierra Leone, or driving the entire length of the Baja Peninsula, immersing in different cultures always inspires me. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and flights were cancelled, my travel tribe and I hatched a crazy plan: if we cannot travel to other countries to explore and enjoy their local cuisine and culture, then why not bring those countries to us. Meaning: we pick a country of choice, plan a picnic around it, and enjoy that country’s food together. And so it started. We gather on a serene spot overlooking the Pacific, set up our picnic area including candles, lanterns, and music, and together enjoy savoring that country’s cuisine. What started out as a simple idea borne out of the dilemma of wanting to travel but not being able to, has now become a regular celebration we all look forward to. We have enjoyed Italian, Thai, Spanish, Indian, Mediterranean and Hawaiian feasts.
Each morning when I open my computer it is with a sense of purpose, excited about what new innovations I will learn about, who I will meet, what problems I can solve, what strategies I will develop, what impact I can make. That, and dreaming of the next travel adventure. Always curious, always learning.
Petra Stegmann, Ph.D.
Springboard Senior Director
Petra works with innovation startups in the life science and hi-tech sectors helping them along their entrepreneurial journey.