Enhancing Industries through Diverse Voices: Jessica Robinson Shares the Key Benefits

Jessica Robinson believes that turning points in life “don’t always happen when you’re onstage or being promoted or successfully making money.”

According to Robinson, one of those turning points occurred during her time as a marketing manager for Zipcar, when the concept of shared mobility was still new. As part of her job, she engaged with Seattle-area residents to discuss their travel experiences.

“Those conversations have stayed with me every day,” Robinson reflects. “I spoke with individuals who desired to live in specific neighborhoods but couldn’t afford to own a car or faced challenges due to limited train accessibility. We had a mobility solution that could change their lives, which they were unaware of.”

These personal stories about the transformative power of mobility ignited Robinson’s passion for the industry. “It aligns with who I am as a person,” she states.

Robinson co-founded Assembly Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs and mobility companies. In 2021, the firm’s initial investment in Our Next Energy, a startup, paid off when it secured $300 million in a Series B funding round.

Although a career in the transportation industry was never in Robinson’s plans, she now sees the connection. She reminisces about her father’s love for trains and the numerous photos of her and her sister alongside trains. “Being continuously exposed to that form of transportation primed me to explore how we move around,” she explains.

After obtaining a degree in anthropology, Robinson spent a decade in the tea industry. In 2008, amidst the recession, she returned to Seattle and encountered a local team with what she describes as a “crazy idea.” That idea turned out to be Zipcar.

Robinson played a key role in the growth of Zipcar’s car-sharing business for seven years. Since then, she has built a reputation as a mobility pioneer and leader, with experience at Ford Smart Mobility and as a co-founder of the Michigan Mobility Institute. “From Zipcar to now, I’ve worn various hats in the industry: a startup, a startup accelerator, and a large automaker,” she remarks. “Now I feel like I’m utilizing all that experience to its maximum potential.”

Being a woman in the transportation industry has presented challenges for Robinson, but she often found herself as one of the youngest members in the room throughout her career. “These two factors taught me to accept myself. I told myself, ‘I’m here. I need to move forward and give my best.’”

With a laugh, Robinson shares that she frequently begins her speeches by saying, “I’m not a car guy.” This admission serves her well, as she embraces it wholeheartedly.

Yet, she acknowledges that there are days when she feels lonely as a female partner in a venture fund. She reminds herself that she doesn’t have to face these challenges alone and emphasizes the importance of having a supportive team and mentors, both male and female, to discuss matters she may not feel comfortable discussing with her male colleagues.

Despite the obstacles, Robinson firmly believes that “diverse voices make our industry better.” She asserts that diversity brings resilience and competitiveness, especially in a space where disrupting a century-old industry is the goal. She expresses excitement regarding the industry’s increasing recognition of these advantages.

According to Robinson, diverse voices counter the “auto industry’s engineering-centric way of thinking, where every problem can supposedly be solved with a better product, material, or engine. When different backgrounds and perspectives are represented, the framing of questions changes, and so do the outcomes.”

She believes that building diversity in the industry should start early, especially when it comes to attracting women. “To ensure women’s presence in this industry and in engineering as a whole, we need to address the culture that shapes girls’ upbringing, starting from their interactions with kindergarten teachers. It’s crucial to fix that.”


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