The Top 25: #10 Jill Ford, Toyota AI Ventures

Jill Ford is a principal at Toyota AI Ventures, a US-based corporate venturing arm of Japan-based carmaker Toyota. She is a native of New Jersey but before taking on her current role she was based in Detroit, Michigan, for three years as head of an innovation and entrepreneurship program devised by Detroit’s incumbent mayor Mike Duggan.

Ford, now based in Silicon Valley, continues to collaborate with the city of Detroit as an expat-in-residence. Sitting on the board of TechTown Detroit, an incubator and accelerator that is part of the Wayne State University system, she selects strategic innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives to help grow the city’s ecosystem.

Toyota AI Ventures was formed in July 2017 as a CVC subsidiary of Toyota Research Institute, Toyota’s US-based research arm. Ford joined later that year to help manage the $100m fund and invests in companies from the autonomous mobility, robotics, data and cloud sectors.

When she joined the firm in December 2017, Jim Adler, managing director of the unit, praised Ford, saying: “She has an eye for talent and a strong understanding of what it takes to win that is rooted in her diverse experience as an investor, business executive and innovator.”

Ford recalls that her high school mentor adored driving a Toyota Camry, and she rode in it on her first day at Harvard University, where she would later earn a degree in computer science.

She told Xconomy in an interview: “After hearing about Toyota AI Ventures and its mission, I was fascinated by a fund dedicated to mobility in areas that are not fully defined.”