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Jennifer Carlson

SAIT's 2016 Distinguished Alumna

Jennifer Carlson, SAIT's 2016 Distinguished Alumna

"For the past year with Baby Gourmet, we've been focusing on innovation and increasing revenue. Also, I've been mentoring at District Ventures, an accelerator set up by Arlene Dickinson. It's very interesting. I love working with new start-ups. I wish I had those types of resources when I was starting my company 11 years ago. It's about building their businesses. Some are in the growth phase, someare in the start-up phase. It's helping them get on track for sales, distribution, investment - whatever their needs are at that time.

Also, since last year I have been working with one of the courses at SAIT. It's a group in the Business Department and it involves working on a business plan. Truthfully, I think the mentorship I'm doing is for more personal satisfaction. It's that reward of giving back. It's really a personal gain.

And I've put more emphasis on travel and exploring now that my kids are a bit older. (They are nine and 10.) I did my first trip to Hong Kong in January, doing some exploration of expanding overseas. I haven't done anything like that yet with the kids. But I want them to know that there is so much more beyond where we live. It's learning about what is going on in the world and the opportunities you can have and the people you meet outside your comfort zone. I look forward to getting back to that." 

Jennifer Carlson, founder and director, Baby Gourmet | Business Administration 1998 | Distinguished Alumna 2016

2016 SAIT Distinguished Alumna

At the tender age of eight, Jennifer Carlson was already well on her way to mastering fundamental marketing concepts by using a pull-behind cart to quench the thirst of overheated parents at her community's soccer fields.

"I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur," says Carlson, founder and director of Baby Gourmet Foods Inc. "It just took me a while to find the right idea."

Jennifer Carlson (BA '98) - 2016 SAIT Distinguished Alumna

When that big idea finally presented itself, Carlson was standing in a lengthy baby food aisle overwhelmed at what to buy for her six-month-old daughter.

"There were rows and rows of jars, but none of it looked appealing," Carlson says. "It was so obvious to me that something was missing, and the opportunity felt so big and so open that I immediately knew it was right."

She started out making and selling high-quality baby food at the Calgary Farmers' Market, researching exactly what her customers wanted and building an appealing story for investors at the same time. Two years in, she was selling $30,000 of product each month, but she knew she wanted more.

"Lots of people told me to start small and let things grow organically, but I wanted every parent and baby to have access to fresh, natural, high-quality food," Carlson says. "That meant going big."

So she spent the next two years surrounding herself with people who know food, and in 2008 pitched Baby Gourmet to retail giant Walmart. Today you can find the company's 30-plus products sold by more than 2,500 major retailers across Canada, and the company's line of healthy snacks for kids, called Slammers, at more than 4,000 retailers throughout the United States.

"The most rewarding part is knowing that I'm making parents' lives easier," says Carlson. "And getting to feed babies — I just can't think of a more important job."

What is your proudest professional moment to date?

"When I was a student, I remember going to an awards ceremony celebrating the woman entrepreneur of the year and wanting to be the one standing on that stage one day. That's why receiving the Ernst and Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year (Prairies) award in 2011 was such a proud moment for me — to be recognized on that stage for competing and winning on a playing field that included everyone."

How has your SAIT education impacted your career?

"My dad was a Marketing instructor at SAIT for years — and I feel like I grew up going to SAIT. When I was a student, most people didn't know my dad was also my teacher. I learned so much about marketing from him, and he was very supportive of everything I did. My dad passed away in 2002 and even though he never saw Baby Gourmet, he is still a big part of its success. Being acknowledged by SAIT — the place that brought us together in many different ways — means so much to me."

What's your advice for beginning students in your field?

"Be prepared to take responsibility for your own destiny. If people aren't opening doors for you, open them yourself. My first job after graduation was in geophysical sciences. I knew that wasn't the career I wanted, so I used the skills and experiences I learned at SAIT to create my own. You can do that, too."

Written by Michelle Woodard
Photo by George Webber