IT’S THE SMALL MOMENTS in life that make the greatest impression, and for Kate Jackson, it may have been those Saturday mornings in 1980s-era Silicon Valley she spent driving out to Mom’s office. There were no ballet classes. No soccer camps. And yet watching her mother—who worked with the Small Business Administration to help fund minority and women-owned startups—imparted life lessons that stay with her today as an entrepreneur, a mentor, and changemaker.
Jackson, who moved with her husband and two sons to Lake Bluff in 2011, is also part of a new endeavor at Lake Forest College (LFC) that will continue to break down barriers for the next generation of entrepreneurs. As Co-Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program (ENTP), her design thinking and inclusive innovation classes will soon be taught at LFC’s new Oppenheimer Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OC)—a dedicated space and thinktank to help entrepreneurs launch their next big idea.
“Google and I were born in the same place,” says Jackson, a native of Mountain View, California. “My mom was an entrepreneur, and my dad was a lawyer, so we would sit at the dinner table and they would just talk about their businesses.”
There was an emphasis on the ethos that those who succeed aren’t necessarily smarter; they just work harder.
“My brothers and I always joke that no matter what, we can solve any problem,” adds Jackson, who received her BA and MA from The University of Chicago and her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. “When you’re raised by entrepreneurs, there aren’t milk and cookies when you get home, so you become very self-sufficient. There is this sense of agency that you have to solve your own problems.”
That foundation helped launch her to a decades-long career at Accenture and Deloitte Consulting, where she designed and implemented change initiatives at Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits to improve performance and build greater resiliency. It made her a change agent on a global scale, with a passion for fostering inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems that break down barriers for women, people of color, people in rural communities, and people with disabilities. Her work has been tireless and life changing. She took it one step further in the wake of the 2020 pandemic, launching Mother Funders LLC to support women, especially mothers, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.
“The pandemic has really laid bare the inequities,” says Jackson, admitting that because she grew up as a 7th generation Californian with pioneer roots and entrepreneurial parents, she bought into many startup myths. “Once I started getting into the research and data, you see that it’s not a fair playing field. Not everyone starts at the same place, which means they don’t finish at the same place. The pandemic illuminates that reality and when I saw how hard moms were hit and how many of the businesses that were shuttered were owned by women and minority entrepreneurs, I knew we had to do something.”
Fortunately for Jackson, she was already in the right place to be an advocate not only for these women but for all people who are fighting an uphill battle to achieve their business dreams.
Lake Forest College’s ENTP was built on a forward- thinking, hopeful vision to expand the ecosystem for anyone and everyone. The new Oppenheimer Center, slated to open next month, is a part of that. But so is the work that both Jackson and her Co-Director Trish Thomas have already done in curriculum development and will continue to do as teachers, leaders, and mentors.
“I’ve known Kate a long time. We met 20 years ago, when she asked me to help with the business she was trying to build right out of college. When I was offered the job in Lake Forest, she was the first person I called. I brought her in to lead our pitch competition and soon she started teaching,” explains Thomas, an Evanston resident, founder of four businesses, CEO of EveryBody Eat, and the college’s first Entrepreneur in Residence. “But college Leadership and our Entrepreneurial Advisory Committee gets complete credit for being visionary enough to let us create cutting edge curriculum and exciting programming like the Venture Design Challenge.”
The soul of that curriculum is a shared belief in psychological resilience and the power moving past failure and loss. Thomas says those elements have been particularly resonant for many LFC students who are pulling themselves up from at-risk environments or out of situations where they have to go farther just to get to the starting line.
“It is a very diverse student body,” explains Jackson, who calls Thomas a kindred spirit in the work she has done to help lift up other women. “We have students from all over the world, including many first-generation students. We now stand in a unique position to be a base and bring the entire ecosystem of entrepreneurs together—to share resources and to ask questions. And that’s a form of capital in itself.”
She says we often get too caught up in the sense that enterprise needs only financial capital. “Capital really includes social capital and networking capital and intellectual capital and physical capital, so if we think about it in that framework, we really are in a great position to level the playing field.”
Lake Forest College President Steven Schutt applauds the work that both Thomas and Jackson have down to reimagine the ENTP curriculum and lay the groundwork for the new Oppenheimer Center.
“Hundreds of students take courses in entrepreneurship every year. They know that an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset will help them advance in any career they choose,” he explains. “Jim, Harry, and Ted Oppenheimer also know this, and that’s why they are such dedicated supporters of our entrepreneurship program. Thanks to their generosity, the beautiful new Oppenheimer Center will be a beacon for creative, ambitious students for many years to come.”
That chorus of praise for the co-leaders continues with Davis Schneiderman, Krebs Provost and a LFC faculty dean.
“Kate Jackson brings deep experience in areas such as human-centered design thinking, entrepreneurial resilience, and inclusive innovation—carrying forward the legacy and vision that Trish Thomas established with the program’s signature curriculum,” says Schneiderman. “The Oppenheimer Center embodies the best of the inventive and original spirit of our program. It is a place to collaborate and engage, and to incubate and accelerate. Its design is meant to harmonize aspirations with outcomes, and I think of it like good jazz— improvisation meets practice to equal the astounding new creations made by our talented students.”
Jaclyn Lonergan, a sophomore at LFC and one of Jackson’s students, says the new Oppenheimer Center is just what she and future entrepreneurs need to unleash their collective entrepreneurial spirit.
“Professor Jackson taught the first entrepreneurship class I ever took and inspired me to minor in the subject. Her passion for entrepreneurship and her students is very apparent, and she has always been there for me for help and advice,” adds Lonergan, who hopes to launch her own makeup company. “It is nice to learn from someone who has experience in the field because her students trust and honor what she has to say.”
The admiration is mutual.
“What really gets me out of bed in the morning is building an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for our students and our community.” says Jackson. “Our students are integral.”
They are also a part of our shared future.
“We are a market-based country with vast opportunity” she adds. “The way you drive change is wealth creation. If we give people more access to creating and building with all the engines firing, and everyone fully engaged, we can emerge from COVID-19 stronger and more resilient. After every economic disruption, entrepreneurs have pulled us out. I see the pent-up entrepreneurial energy that will lead us into a bright future.”
For more information about the new Oppenheimer Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, visit lakeforest.edu.