Jim Watkins ‘07 and Wade Thompson ‘07 used to wear suits and ties every day. Both were working on Wall Street in New York City—Watkins as a stock trader for Citibank and Thompson as an investment banker for Piper Jaffray. In the back of their minds, they always kept alive an entrepreneurial dream.
That dream is now a reality.
On this mid-March day, they’re sharing the origin story of Sociable Cider Werks, the cider brewery and taproom they cofounded in Northeast Minneapolis. Both are wearing sweatshirts and caps—baseball for Thompson, a fuzzy winter one for Watkins. As loud machinery whirrs around them, a touring group of Carleton Business and Entrepreneurial Scholars peppers the pair with questions about retail distribution and product sourcing. The word “passion” comes up quite a few times in answers.
Having spent most of the day inside traditional boardrooms, the assembled students are beginning to see the bigger picture inside this uniquely cider soaked space. Success isn’t a straight line. It often requires a lot of patience and soul searching.
“This has opened my eyes to a lot of sides to the real world that you don’t get to see in the classroom,” says Ji Min Yoo ’15 (Seoul, South Korea). “I think a lot of us are at a place where we idealize a job or a company, or the minute we leave Carleton, we think we’re going to save the world. It might take awhile to figure out what you really want to do.”
The Career Center’s Scholars Week program—built around “taste of industry” tours that introduce students to a variety of organizations for site visits, panel discussions and networking—selected 28 students on two tracks: Business and Entrepreneurship. Any number of cities could have served as this year’s spring break destination. But Sarah Wolfe, program director for parent and alumni engagement, wanted to tap—no pun intended—into a special branch of the Carleton family tree just 40 minutes north on I-35W.
The seeds were planted earlier in the week when several Twin Cities alumni—Brian Van Nevel ’87, Eric Nicholson ’88, Jonas Funk ’97, Emily Rompala ’97, Kate Whittington ’98 and Andrew Ulland ’99—offered advice and expertise at a Scholars Week Business Symposium inside the Weitz Center for Creativity. After eating lunch with the professionals, students practiced networking skills. It was all designed to prepare them for three days of site hopping and career counseling in (here comes that dreaded phrase again) the real world.
“To me, that was the coolest thing—seeing all the different kinds of entrepreneurs and businesses, how they all have different ways of being successful,” says Peter Joy ‘15 (St. Paul, MN). “They all talked a lot about drive. The drive to make something happen that they were really passionate about, and how that drive kept them going when problems came up. Yet while they all seemed to have the same drive to be successful, it came out in different ways.”
Joy also appreciated the honesty of those same alumni voices. While his classroom learning has steadied him for life after graduation, he concedes that you “never get to hear about how hard it is to start your own business, or the step-by-step process to get money and get an actual business going.”
“A lot of students ask me, ‘How do I do this? How do I break into an industry without a lot of experience?’” says Jeff Lin ‘98, founder and CEO of Bust Out Solutions, a mobile and web application development company in Minneapolis. “My number one answer is to always use your connections. It could be someone who was a year ahead of me or a generation ahead of me. I’ve received a lot of help from people, whether advice or opportunities. It’s an old refrain, but it often comes back to not what you know, but who you know.”
Lin shared a story about a Carleton student who e-mailed him out of the blue asking for advice. Her “pleasant aggressiveness” over time, as Lin put it, sold him on giving her an internship—even though one didn’t exist on paper. Now she’s a professional programmer.
Likewise, Watkins has hired two Carleton interns, neither who knew a “single thing about making cider.” “But I knew they would figure it out as Carleton students. There’s a value that I place on that,” he says.
After all, Watkins didn’t take any science classes at Carleton, yet life at Sociable has demanded that he learn about chemistry in a whole new way. He’s quick to credit his Carleton experience for providing the drive to turn a hobby into a thriving business alongside his former New York City roommate Thompson.
“There are tremendous resources there to really rock it in whatever scene you want to get in. I met my business partner at Carleton. I met my life partner, my wife, at Carleton. There’s a caliber of people there—peers, professors, alumni, staff—that are all potential parts of a network to grow your personal brand,” Watkins says.
That brand isn’t set in stone the minute a student receives his or her diploma. It’s an important reminder that Yoo will carry with her anytime she feels pressure to land “the ideal job” before graduation in a few months.
“To see the paths of these successful alumni, it motivates me. A lot of them changed careers or didn’t know what they wanted to do,” says Yoo, a mathematics and statistics major. “It offers encouragement and comfort. I can try out different things. I still have time to think about my dream.”
UP CLOSE, IN PERSON
Among the Twin Cities companies Carleton’s Business and Entrepreneurial Scholars visited from March 18-20:
- Wells Fargo
- Ameriprise Financial
- UnitedHealth Group
- Oak Investment Partners
- Create Reason
- Bust Out Solutions
- Sociable Cider Werks
For more information on future trips and alumni networking opportunities, contact the Carleton Career Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (507) 222-4293.