Baking in Barbour Hall and Building a Business: Stories of Success and Struggle from Jessica Nam Kim ’00

Jessica Nam Kim ’00 kicked off the first week of the 2018 summer Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) program on June 5, 2018 and shared valuable lessons on entrepreneurship, startups, and life. The story begins at Brown University in Jessica’s dorm room in Barbour Hall, where she founded her first company, Jessica’s Wonders. Even though Jessica knew nothing about starting a food company, she was eager to learn. Interested in learning how to bake in bulk, Jessica started shadowing the owner of a bagel shop as early as 3:45 AM. Lack of relevant expertise did not stop Jessica from pursuing her great idea. Jessica encouraged students to take on that same attitude and curiosity. She noted too many people give up on a great idea because they think they don’t know how to execute it.

The success of Jessica’s Wonders wasn’t the end of the road for Jessica’s startup career. She began her second venture, BabbaCo, in 2007 and explained to the B-Lab cohort that she had no idea how to sew when she began creating the prototype for BabbaCo.’s first product; a car seat cover. Jessica described throwing together a prototype with staples and glue, then taking it to her local seamstress to fix up. From these stapled together prototypes, Jessica built another successful business. After five years, BabbaCo was acquired by Barefoot Books where Jessica worked as president and board member. Inspired by her curiosity and love for helping people, but most of all her mother, Jessica is now working on her third startup, IanaCare which operates to provide support and assistance to people caring for ill loved ones in the home, which is still in the pre seed rounds of funding. We are excited to see where Jessica takes this new venture.

Inspired by her background in anthropology, she encouraged everyone to focus on people first when building their businesses. Being an entrepreneur is about bringing value to others, not just what one can do for themselves. Jessica suggested that the cohort dive into their bottom-up research by asking potential customers questions like: “What makes you proud?”; “What makes you feel stressed?” and “What is your morning routine?” These research questions allow for more genuine, valuable information, that could potentially help any venture figure out whether or not their solution is the answer .

While she may make it look easy, Jessica also spoke about the challenges of building a business, especially as a young female entrepreneur. Beginning with a slide titled, “How did you fit in without a hoodie?”, she shared anecdotes of times when she felt discouraged or insecure, particularly in a male dominated startup space. Jessica explained the challenges of being pregnant with her third child and pitching to investors for BabbaCo. However, Jessica found that being confident about her abilities and the value of her venture allowed her to raise the capital she needed, and ultimately run a successful business.

Jessica’s visit to B-Lab offered guidance and advice to the 2018 B-Lab cohort including encouragement to pursue great ideas, even when you lack expertise. Being confident in yourself and your ideas will legitimize your business and allow you to do what you need to do despite any apparent obstacles. In addition, Jessica reminded students to investigate and understand the people you’re working with whether they’re customers, investors, co-founders, etc.