Jake's, A Lakeland Community is hub for entrepreneurship
As Lakeland approaches the first anniversary of acquiring its downtown Sheboygan presence, Jake's, A Lakeland Community has quickly positioned itself as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship for the region.
Led by talented entrepreneur Stephanie Hoskins, LU's inaugural Herbert Kohler & Frank Jacobson Chair for Business and Entrepreneurship, the multi-building space at 529 Ontario Ave. in Sheboygan is a destination for a variety of projects and events that is bringing the business community together.
"It's been really exciting," Hoskins said. "I love having that blank slate to develop programs and events that address what this ecosystem needs. We are working closely with several Sheboygan County organizations, which has helped us to hit the ground running and deliver programs that are needed."
Jake's, A Lakeland Community is housed in the former Jake's Café, which was created by noted Sheboygan businessman Tryg Jacobson in honor of his parents, Frank "Jake" and Elizabeth "Betty" Jacobson, as a space that attracted and nurtured a community of creative people from all walks of life. Hoskins said that mission remains a core part of her vision.
"What we realized quickly is this area needs that physical location where people can meet," Hoskins said. "Throughout the pandemic, people didn't do lot of socializing and networking. People have missed it and are hungry for that, and it is an important part of growing innovation in this area. We have helped people catch up on networks by becoming a hub for creating and hosting events."
In addition to networking events, Jake's has hosted numerous meetings, a play, book signings and two people have filmed projects at the site.
Jake's also continues to host a community of small businesses and entrepreneurs by renting office space. Hoskins said there are plans to expand the number of coworking memberships this spring, as well as plans to renovate some portions of Jake's to provide space for hosting more events like showcases of local businesses and business/product pitch competitions.
Community partnerships have been key to Jake's quick start.
In late 2022, Lakeland and the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) launched the Sheboygan County Accelerator for Learning Entrepreneurship (SCALE), a new accelerator program sponsored by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
The initiative will provide a wide variety of services, resources and expertise to help encourage entrepreneurial opportunities in Sheboygan County by investing in up to six pre- or early-revenue startups per cohort, per year. Participants will enroll in a 10-week, 10-hour/week program at Jake's, which is organized by Hoskins and taught by a variety of subject-matter experts.
"We are just getting started with our entrepreneurial support efforts and looking forward to working with the SCEDC on a variety of upcoming programs like SCALE, which will help keep founders local and support new endeavors." said Hoskins, the co-founder of cloud-based software company Debtle.
The work at Jake's will positively impact Lakeland's students. Hoskins, who is also a Lakeland business faculty member, is working with her colleagues to create an entrepreneurship curriculum that guides students through the first phases of idea generation and opportunity exploration through strategies to start a business or lead a startup. The goal is for this training to be available in a range of useful forms, whether as workshops, stand-alone undergraduate and graduate courses, or even as an emphasis within Lakeland's Business Administration major.
Jake's works closely with Launch: Lakeland Student-Run Businesses, a nearly three-year-old effort which empowers students to create, develop, manage and lead business ventures while they develop into the next generation of emerging leaders. Launch will be heavily involved in behind-the-scenes logistics work with the SCALE and veterans efforts.
Jake's works with Sheboygan North High School to host an Innovator Fellowship program, which allows North High juniors and seniors to design and develop innovative social impact projects.
"The research on Gen Z (born between the late 1990s-early 2010s) is they are so entrepreneurially minded and that these programs are something students want and are excited about," Hoskins said. "Students are seeing themselves in five years running their own business or coming up with their own product."
A prime example is Sydney Pingitore, a 2022 Lakeland graduate who serves as operations coordinator at Jake's. She is enrolled in Lakeland's master of science in leadership and organization development degree program, and her work at Jake's is complementing her coursework.
"One key takeaway from the MSLOD program is establishing relationships and making connections," said Pingitore, who came to Lakeland from Kenosha, Wis., served as Launch's president of merchandising for two years and was a decorated volleyball player.
"I enjoy being a presence at Jake's as I have met and established relationships with new individuals within the community from big companies, nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Those relationships are resources that are helping me understand where I want to go with my career while also allowing me to focus on the bigger picture for my organization, which is building a community."
Pingitore said the management of Jake's gives her daily lessons in time management and establishing priorities.
"There was a lot to figure out, but it has allowed me to grow and improve my organization skills," she said. "It's allowing me to see my strengths and weaknesses and where I can focus to improve. It can be stressful, but it's also a lot of fun."
Hoskins said the opportunity to support a graduate student is a great opportunity, and she's pleased with Pingitore's accomplishments, which include event creation and management and developing a networking group.
"She gets a lot of autonomy," Hoskins said. "She connects with members and gets to know and provide for them. She's interacting with people to understand their challenges and pathways. For people considering entrepreneurship, hearing those different paths and the hurdles people must overcome is really valuable for students."
Hoskins said young people with an entrepreneurial mindset don't need to leave the area to find rewarding jobs that match their passions.
"We have large corporations here that are growing their own internal innovation departments," Hoskins said. "You can learn how to develop and bring a product to market and do it for these locally based companies. Sustainability is also a major focus for these companies and that ties into innovation. It's an exciting time."
Funding for Jake's and the creation of Hoskins' position was donated by the late Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., on behalf of Kohler Co., and by Richard and Kristin (Jacobson) Bemis.
At a grand opening event last summer, Lakeland President Beth Borgen said Jake's is an ideal way for Lakeland to expand its Cooperative Education program, student-run businesses and entrepreneurial thinking in the region while carrying on the legacy of Frank & Betty Jacobson.
She noted that more than 80 percent of Lakeland's graduates choose to work and raise a family in this region upon their graduation.
"With students coming from rural Wisconsin, inner city Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, around the country and around the globe, we are truly a talent importer," Borgen said. "With the experience and learning that will occur at Jake's, our students may also be able to graduate with a business plan and seed money.
"Hands-on learning from industry experts and mentors, aligned with the knowledge gained in the classroom from our talented faculty, creates a rich learning environment providing our students with transferable skills that will benefit careers we have not yet even imagined."