Jake Smith ’18 was announced as the director of gBETA at St. Thomas, a partnership with the University of St. Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and gener8tor, a nationally ranked startup accelerator. The partnership brings free programs for St. Thomas students and alumni to help launch new enterprises. Through its seven-week gBETA accelerator, Smith will work with startups and connect them to experts to refine their business model, meet mentors, strategize growth, gain customer traction and pitch investors.
gBETA at St. Thomas will be housed on the St. Paul campus. All programs are free, and newly launched companies do not give up equity to participate.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Jake, your role with gBETA at St. Thomas is to support students and alumni who want to start up a business, connecting five startups in the Tommie cohort with the entrepreneurial ecosystem at St. Thomas, the community and beyond. How do you see this working? And, what makes gBETA the right place for early-stage companies?
The gBETA program is designed to prepare these companies for their next stage. We want to help them raise seed capital, or participate in full-time equity-based accelerator programs. We focus our efforts on three key areas: developing an entrepreneurial mindset, working in the business, and working on the business. Because every startup has unique strengths and weaknesses and is in a different stage of growth and development, our approach is to provide customized, concierge programming for each participant. I’ll give advice and challenge the thinking of these company leaders, but most importantly, I’ll be their connector. I will act as the bridge between the cohort of companies and the right mentors for their stage and industry.
What does the perfect startup look like for this exciting opportunity?
First off, it has to be a Tommie-led business. Beyond that, gBETA is open to any business idea and model from a current student or alumni. It doesn’t matter the person’s academic background. Great ideas come from everywhere. The company can be an early-stage concept to the early-stage of a launch. We’ve had successful companies enter gBETA anywhere from napkin-ideas to tens of thousands of monthly recurring revenue, so our prerequisites are not a daunting list. We aim to work with teams working on large market opportunities.
After completing several gBETA cycles to help launch businesses, what do you think success will look like?
We set high expectations for ourselves and the teams in our programs. We want people to look at what we’re doing and say, ‘We got the most out of Tommies,’ and that we’re accomplishing things people maybe didn’t think were possible. I want to see that we’re using entrepreneurship to benefit the common good, and building solid, sustainable businesses that will make an impact on society. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem will grow year over year, and utilizing our school’s potential is the best way to accomplish that.
As someone who came through the entrepreneurship major, you would have started a couple businesses in your classes. What types of business did you launch and what did you learn that applies to your new role?
My team won the Lemonade Stand competition with a laser-cut adventure map of Minnesota for craft brewery enthusiasts. As they visit breweries that bottle beer, they collect a bottle cap place it on the steel-cutout of Minnesota. Once they visited each brewery, the map would be full. In addition, we made designs for Wisconsin and Lake Superior.
In my Financial Entrepreneurship class we created four flavors of loose-leaf tea to sell. We produced organic, small batch flavors that served every pallet. Dr. Julie Sullivan and Dr. Jay Ebben had feature flavors; both were top sellers.
In the capstone class we created a food delivery service app at MSP airport tailored to millennial families. We loved the idea, but the timing wasn’t right. I learned as much, if not more, from experiencing an idea that didn’t work, than I did with successful ventures.
You learn a lot and you learn quickly when you just start and get out of the building. Running with our ideas and adjusting on the fly brought good insight that I get to employ with gBETA. One of the most valuable pieces I learned through all of these startups was how to work in teams. I’m very excited to work with our gBETA teams and leverage their strengths over our 7-week program.
Outside of helping launch companies, you’ll have additional roles with gBETA at St. Thomas to engage with students on campus. What do you envision this looking like?
I played baseball and was heavily engaged in Cru, and was fortunate to make connections across campus. I’m going to use that spirit of engagement, married with my entrepreneurship background and the national reach of gener8tor to develop avenues to build collaborative events with students, alumni, mentors, industry experts and investors. We’ll hold weekly gBETA Lunch & Learns, and gBETA Pitch Night at the end of the program will be a huge celebration, bringing in the local entrepreneurship community. Both gBETA Lunch & Learns and gBETA Pitch Night events will be free and open to the public.
What’s interesting about your life that we should know about?
Right out of college I signed a contract with to play pro baseball with the St. Paul Saints. I had a blast playing alongside great talent and my former Tommie teammate, Ryan Zimmerman. In January, I married my best friend, McKenzie, who graduated from Minnesota in 2017. We currently live in Minneapolis, where we love being active in our church and adventuring the great outdoors!
Contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org