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BabbaCo founder Jessica Kim ’05 won first prize in the COMPETE Contest at Chicago’s TechWeek Conference.

BabbaCo founder Jessica Kim ’05 won first prize in the COMPETE Contest at Chicago’s TechWeek Conference.

Kellogg graduate takes baby startup to new heights

Fueled by a passion for serving parents and with Kellogg support, Jessica Kim ’05 wins first prize at TechWeek Conference

By Kristina Cowan

8/22/2011 - Jessica Kim’s fervor for helping parents with young children landed her startup, BabbaCo, first prize in the COMPETE Contest at Chicago’s TechWeek Conference. After pitching a new product line, the BabbaBox—where parents subscribe to receive a box of activities each month, geared to their three-to-five-year-olds—Kim, a 2005 Kellogg School graduate, learned that BabbaCo had won $100,000 in cash and services.

BabbaBox is meant to help parents spend quality time with their children, while teaching them in enriching ways, Kim says.

BabbaCo was one of 35 startups competing at TechWeek, held in July at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart and focused on giving business and technology leaders “a landscape view of the new edge of innovation.” Among those on the conference’s “TechWeek 100,” a list of the 100 most innovative people in Chicago technology, 22 are either Kellogg or Northwestern alums, including: Adam Caplan ’01, founder and CEO, Model Metrics; Matt McCall ’91, partner, New World Ventures; Chuck Templeton ’06, co-founder, OhSoWe; and Robert Wolcott, executive director, Kellogg Innovation Network.

Kim sheds more light on how Kellogg was pivotal in shaping her as an entrepreneur:

Q: What was the support you felt from Kellogg faculty, students and alumni?

A: I felt a lot of support from Kellogg, mainly from the individuals/mentors plus the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice. Even after I graduated, I would meet up with specific professors and alumni from Kellogg. My classmates were incredible as a source of knowledge, connections, and brainstorming. In fact, my first hire was Christine Gutierrez ’05, a Kellogg classmate.

Q: How did your Kellogg experience helped bring the ideas for BabbaCo and BabbaBox to fruition?

When I arrived at Kellogg, I was a young entrepreneur filled with more questions than answers. The entire Kellogg experience helped me do two things: fully understand and digest my first entrepreneurial experience that I started at college, and formalize my strategic thinking in a structure that can be applied to any industry or business. Kellogg shaped my DNA as a passionate entrepreneur, and gave me a strong base to evolve into a leader and CEO.

Q: What challenges did you overcome?

A: I launched BabbaCo in September 2008, the week the economy crashed. We had to overcome the consumer fear of spending with a higher-end baby product item. We still hit our projections and established a great brand presence, focusing on our solutions for parents. I took out personal loans, maxed out credit cards, and ran a very lean team of two as we executed towards our vision. I had a second baby during a major product launch, traveled to China to our manufacturing plant while being six months pregnant, and the week before I gave birth, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Throughout all these challenges … the vision and consumer connection drove us to persevere.

Q: What advice do you have for prospective entrepreneurs?

A: In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to have the vision and ability to execute with an undying passion. You also need to be resourceful and have the ability to lead with confidence. Kellogg provided the tools, network of support, and mindset that set the stage for my business to flourish.