2016 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."
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.
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."
Jennifer Carlson (BA '98), founder and director, Baby Gourmet
"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, some are 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."