Q&A with entrepreneur and TEDxZumbroRiver presenter Tori Utley

With DMC efforts like Discovery Square intended to help launch new startups and grow existing ventures, enhancing the diversity of the entrepreneurial landscape for the region will help drive growth and ensure that we attract and retain professionals of all ages.

Ttedxhe resume of Rochester-based entrepreneur Tori Utley reads like it belongs to a seasoned veteran of Silicon Valley: mobile app enthusiast, tech start-up founder, and non-profit leader are all on her list of accomplishments.

But at 23, Utley has just started her career. You can catch her presenting at TEDx ZumbroRiver on May 5, but if you want to learn more about her in the meantime, read on.

Utley’s professional background is in addiction counseling. But recently, she has married her passion for helping people in recovery with her passion for technology. Utley is a product manager at Mayo Clinic, working with the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology on a new mobile application for mood-monitoring and mental health.

Utley is also the founder and CEO of Tinua, a startup tech and social venture company, which aims to reduce monetary waste and allocate those funds for social impact. She also founded a non-profit, called More than an Addict, that helps recovering addicts complete their education, find jobs, and become entrepreneurs.

Utley sat down with DMC to talk about what it’s like to be a tech innovator and social entrepreneur in Rochester – and share her secret for balancing so many projects at once.

“Everything I’m doing today is so exciting,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like work because at the end of the day, as long as I’m helping people and solving problems, it’s fulfilling and worthwhile.”

Tori-UtleyDMC: You have experience in both technology development and in addiction recovery. Explain how you became interested in both and how you see the two intersecting.

Utley: Addiction is near to my heart because it runs in my family. While I was working as a counselor, I was also working part-time at Mayo and had the opportunity to work in business. It ended up being a good fit and was more exciting than I ever thought business could be, so I finished my MBA.

It’s interesting to observe how technology is changing the way we live our lives. I want to translate that innovation into what I’m doing in the mental health sector as well as in charity and philanthropy.

DMC: In general, how do you see technology filling gaps in the health care system and why is this important?

Utley: There has been a fear of leveraging technology in mental health because it’s a sensitive field. But technology is in every part of our lives – some of us have better relationships with phones than we do with other people! I believe that as industries evolve around us, we need to be offering the same innovations and best practices to patients in all of health care – mental health included.

DMC: Rochester is well known for the Mayo Clinic and the high-quality treatment patients get there. But not everyone knows that Rochester is also a harbor for innovators. What has it been like to be an entrepreneur in Rochester, and particularly one that is focusing on the intersection of technology and mental health?

Utley: The reason I’ve stayed in Rochester is because it’s an amazing community. I tell people it’s the biggest small town in the world. But there’s also incredible innovation happening here – there’s an entrepreneurial ecosystem in technology and healthcare and in the human and social services sector. It’s equally as innovative, and I love the DMC’s focus on bringing more entrepreneurial minds to Rochester. Rallying people around that effort is so exciting because some of the entrepreneurs I’m meeting now I never would have met otherwise.

DMC: You have a very impressive resume for someone who has just started her career. What is it like to be a millennial living in and working in Rochester? How would you describe the city’s vibe to someone who doesn’t live here?

Utley: Over the last few years of plugging into the community, I’ve seen that despite the stigma that “there isn’t much to do in Rochester,” there really is. There are a lot of people living here with a ton of energy, the desire to do good, and the ambition to continue growing our community. It’s been exciting to get to know these people, and the more people I meet, the more anchored I feel to Rochester.