Ken Martin T’17 didn’t begin his career with a zeal for entrepreneurship.
In fact, after studying finance at Georgetown and receiving his MSc from the London School of Economics in 2010, all signs pointed to investment banking—so he headed to Barclays where, working his way up to vice president, he spent five years in its London, New York, and Johannesburg offices.
But a chance encounter with an aspiring entrepreneur in 2013 changed all that.
Martin was having coffee in a café outside of the Barclays’ Johannesburg building when the barista behind the counter, Silas, approached him with an idea: He wanted to open a coffee shop in South Africa, and was seeking guidance before moving forward. A lightbulb went off.
“I realized that, despite problems in Africa—so much poverty and struggle—there’s this entrepreneurial spirit there,” says Martin. “It got me excited to do what I could to help.”
Without knowing it, Silas had planted the seed that led Martin to found Emerging Venture Labs in 2015 with the mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs around the world get off the ground and build new businesses. With Martin’s guidance, Silas eventually opened a food truck in Johannesburg that serves coffee and refreshments. Under the auspices of his venture, Martin consulted for entrepreneurs across the globe, opened three Saxbys coffee shop locations in Washington, D.C., and, with the help of a former professional athlete, co-founded a health and wellness-focused juice company called Simple Science Juices.
I knew the finance world very well, but marketing, corporate communications, talent management, and strategy, I did not.
While Saxbys, as a coffee shop chain, already possessed a strong business blueprint, Simple Science Juices was a brand new business with only a single Hippocratean principle to guide the way: Let food be thy medicine, let medicine be thy food. Building a business from scratch presented a new challenge for Martin, who was forced to face a hard truth: If he wanted to give his businesses the attention they deserved, he needed to step away from his full-time career in investment banking. And beyond that, he needed to expand his skillset to ensure their success. Pursuing an MBA provided the perfect “pause button” for his career, he says—one that would help him grow as an entrepreneur.
“I came to Tuck knowing I would have direct access to a broad range of resources, including advisers who were subject matter experts,” he says. “I knew the finance world very well, but topics like marketing, corporate communications, talent management, and strategy, I did not.”
Through strategy and entrepreneurship courses like Building Entrepreneurial Ventures with professor Steve Kahl D’91 and Daniella Reichstetter T’07, executive director of the Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship, Martin considered questions such as “What do you focus on in your business? What do you not focus on?” And through the core curriculum, he was able to take several lessons from the classroom and apply them directly to his businesses. In Managerial Economics with professor Joe Hall, for example, Martin recalls learning about different pricing strategies and how to segment customers. It was another a-ha moment for him.
“I realized that with certain products we could do that same thing at our juice company—segment customers,” he says. “The day after that lecture, we made a pricing change and immediately saw the benefits.”
Outside the classroom, Martin worked closely with the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN), which supports budding engineers across the Dartmouth community, and frequently conferred with alumni in the technology, venture capital, and entrepreneurship spaces. In the fall of his second year, he acted as a teaching assistant in the DEN West Coast Experience course, coaching undergraduates interested in entrepreneurship. Over the summer he interned at private equity and venture capital firm GE Ventures in Silicon Valley.
From his residence hall, Martin continues to manage his companies, applying practical business strategies in real-time whenever possible. The renewed focus has paid off. As Martin’s graduation date approaches, he is celebrating the opening of the fifth and sixth locations of Simple Science Juices, spread across three different states.
“During my time at Tuck, we’ve grown it from basically zero to a multimillion dollar business,” he says. “It’s been a ton of fun seeing it grow, and I look forward to continuing to see it grow.”
Looking back, he’s grateful for his career in investment banking, but deep down he knew he had the entrepreneurship bug all along. During his childhood, his family experienced financial challenges. This crystalized in his mind the need to shape his own destiny, he says.
“I grew up working on cars with my dad, who has always been a blue collar guy. That really instilled in me at a young age the value of actually building something—actually creating something.”