Community Spotlight: Jamie Kraft

Jamie Kraft currently serves as the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at the Warrington School of Business at the University of Florida. He's a well-known student supporter, team player, and advocate for the innovation community.

Community Spotlight: Jamie Kraft

Jamie Kraft currently serves as the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at the Warrington School of Business at the University of Florida. He's a well-known student supporter, team player, and advocate for the innovation community. In his spare time, he even supports TedxUF, an independently organized, student-run conference.

As part of our community spotlight series, startGNV is proud to present a few of our favorite local personalities and highlight the great work they're doing to make GNV a great place to learn, live, work, and play.

Guest content written by Seyi Oluwaleimu


Jamie’s EIC office space

Background

Jamie Kraft is a lifelong ACR (Alachua County Resident). He was born in Shands hospital and his father served as the Dean of the business school. Kraft currently serves as the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at the Warrington School of Business at the University of Florida. He also helps support TedxUF, an independently organized, student-run conference.

What brought you back to Gainesville?

“Well, I did my undergrad at Arizona and finished my MBA in ‘98. I came back to town in ‘02, mostly because my family is based here, and started working with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center in ‘03”

Kraft was born and raised in Gainesville and, after leaving town a number of times, decided to come back to town and work as a consultant. After volunteering for what at the time was the Center for Entrepreneurship, the founding director, Dr. Arnold Heggestad, offered Kraft to join the team full time.

Were you interested in entrepreneurship during your time at UF?

“No, I wasn’t really a part of the entrepreneurship scene… I remember some of my classmates taking the entrepreneurship class with Dr. Heggestad but that didn’t interest me, I wanted to do strategy and finance and operation. I suspect that this was partly because, at the time, entrepreneurship wasn’t as large as it is now. At the time, the biggest game in town was probably the licensing office”

As Kraft mentioned, Gainesville has changed a lot, and during the period that he attended UF a lot of the entrepreneurs and amazing ventures that have shaped the ecosystem today had not occurred yet.

EIC Staff winning a national award for the UF Entrepreneurship Program

How have you seen entrepreneurship develop in your time in Gainesville?

“When I started [ the Gainesville innovation ecosystem ] was much smaller, and it’s grown exponentially in the last couple years which is interesting to see. When I was in business school there wasn’t as big an effort as today to get students into entrepreneurship. Today the center has a staff of 13 with north of 20+ classes offered. It’s been awesome to see the desire for innovation grow.”

What issues currently face the Gainesville startup community?

“For a while, we were doing a better job connecting to the community outside of UF. It’s weird, everyone has kind of gone back to their corner in terms of connecting to the local startup community. There’s no question that there is way more effort here on campus and there is also much more happening in the wider community, but we aren’t connecting as much. The EIC is trying to find more ways to facilitate that connection.”

Entrepreneurship is becoming more embedded in the UF curriculum, Kraft explains. Programs like the Innovation Academy and the masters in Entrepreneurship are becoming more widely adopted so it is evident that there is no lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Kraft hopes that the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center can do something about this dissonance between students at UF and the wider community.

What past programs have you seen that were effective at closing that gap between students and the wider community?

“There was a period where we ran startup bazaars where we would bring 10-15 startups onto campus and hold a mixer. It was a great opportunity to get students and startups connected. Back in the day, over by the Sun Center, you had companies like Synogen, Grooveshark, and lots of accelerators. Because of this, there was always a lot of student activity from doing internships and getting connected in other ways. From 2005 - 2015 there was a lot more back and forth when it comes to programming with the larger community”

Jamie speaking at a breakfast for Gainesville Leaders about the role the EIC plays in teaching entrepreneurship 

What do you think would be an effective way to bring the innovative student community and the wider Gainesville startup community together?

“We need more students who are entrepreneurially minded to help bridge that gap. If students do it they’ll be able to create events that students enjoy. We’ll always be here to assist with funding and support. It’s interesting, with student organizations you can see an ebb and flow of interest in certain areas. I think dedicated support behind a handful of programs that stay for a while is good, but I think it’s also good to have a little creative destruction to keep the ecosystem new and innovative. But again, it has to start with the students”

What prominent programs are you working on currently?

“TedXUF is a great project that has been going on for 12 years now. I remember when the first two or three students came to me and said ‘hey, we wanna do this ted thing’ and asked for money. I said I could give them 100 bucks because we didn’t have a lot of money at the time. I think the faculty advisor threw in another 50 and that’s all they used to put on the first event. They rented the Pugh Hall Ocora, had a 100 person cap on the event and it went well! Now it’s still going on 12 years later and it’s a pretty cool event, a lot of the speakers are professors, local entrepreneurs, and notable professionals from all sorts of different fields. It’s been awesome to see it grow in a trajectory similar to a startup from a small $100 gathering to a $35,000 event.”

Jamie speaking at Florida Forward ‘18