Nationally acclaimed entrepreneur comes full circle at SAIT
Jennifer Carlson (BA '98), co-founder and director, Baby Gourmet, was recently appointed as SAIT's new Chair of Innovation and New Ventures.
It seems only fitting successful Calgary entrepreneur Jennifer Carlson should find herself back at SAIT.
After all, the co-founder of Baby Gourmet spent a lot of time at the post-secondary institution as a youth — her father was a marketing instructor here. She was also a SAIT School of Business graduate in 1998 with a diploma in marketing and is a 2016 SAIT Distinguished Alumna.
Now, she's back at SAIT's School of Business as the Chair of Innovation and New Ventures — a clear example of how we're attracting top-level business talent to the school, demonstrating there is a strong business knowledge being cultivated.
"I feel like I've learned a lot of hard lessons — good lessons — and I feel like I'm now in a place where I want to be able to provide that back to people who are in the same place I was when I started out. Hopefully, they can prevent themselves from making the kind of mistakes I did," says Carlson.
Supporting local entrepreneurs
SAIT provided Carlson with a foundation to create a successful business story. She's a shining example of what can be achieved and what is possible for entrepreneurs.
Carlson and her sister Jill launched Baby Gourmet in 2006 at the Calgary Farmers' Market. The organic baby food company specializes in nutritious and delicious packaged food for babies and toddlers. Today, its products are distributed in major retailers across North America.
As Chair of Innovation and New Ventures, Carlson will be responsible for ensuring there is entrepreneurial support within SAIT business courses while also providing mentorship to students interested in entrepreneurship. Carlson wants to ensure the program is suited to entrepreneurs with ideas or addresses problems they want to solve and help them bring those ideas through validation to a pre-commercialized state.
"Because of my experience, I can look at the program and tell if it's meeting all the early-stage needs," says Carlson. "My role is also to speak about the program to the community and be a representative in the community among entrepreneurs and other business owners. I also work with the instructors and the program developers to determine the content is always relevant and that we've got the right mentors in place and the right instructors in place."
Carlson's entrepreneurial success has been widely recognized. She was named as one of Canada's top 10 female entrepreneurs on PROFIT's 17th annual W100 list of Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs. In 2014, Carlson received the prestigious Women of Influence Trailblazer award on behalf of Baby Gourmet, and the company's Squoosh product line was voted "Most Outstanding Product in Canada" by the World Tour by SIAL Awards. It's Baby Gourmet Plus was the recipient of Canadian Retail Grocery Council's 2014 Annual Grand Prix Award for innovation in baby care. And in 2011, she was named Ernst & Young's Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year (Prairies).
Carlson, a shareholder in Baby Gourmet and on the board of directors, is not involved in the company's day-to-day operations any longer but remains a consultant to the brand.
David Ower, the Dean of SAIT's School of Business, initially sent Carlson the job posting for the Chair of Innovation and New Ventures. He asked her if she wanted to circulate the posting through her network to see if anyone would be interested in the role.
"When I read it, it felt like it speaking to me. I have this history with SAIT," says Carlson. "SAIT has always been a part of who I was growing up. My dad was very influential in my early days as an entrepreneur and very supportive, especially in my business. He passed away prior to me starting Baby Gourmet but the lessons he taught me through the years were really instrumental in the success of my first big business. He was my teacher when I went to SAIT.
"I'd always thought that I wanted to give back and this was an opportunity for me to not only give back to the school but to give back to the students. When I graduated from SAIT as a young entrepreneur, there wasn't a lot of resources for entrepreneurs. When you had an idea you were really on your own to figure out what you were going to do with it. And that's what I did with Baby Gourmet. I really had to figure out every step of the way on my own."