January 07, 2020 • By Xanat Hernandez
When Jon Freeman was seven years old, he told his mother he wanted to become a venture capitalist. While Freeman doubts that his seven-year-old self knew the meaning of those words, he finds himself on a similar path 20 years later as part of the inaugural class of the Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MIE) program at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business.
In the five years since he graduated from Vanguard University with a degree in marketing and communications, he’s honed an entrepreneurial spirit that he will continue to nurture at the Merage School.
His journey has taken him from the world of high-end dog collars, luxury suits, commercial real estate and finally to VP of Operations at QuixSupply, a construction materials company, and Director of Marketing and Operations at Duobed, an e-commerce furniture company.
Freeman has experienced the corporate world—and found it lacking. He quickly decided he wanted to be his own boss.
“I was tired of backing ideas I didn’t believe in, and I finally left on a Friday. That weekend I started chatting with a neighbor and bouncing ideas around with him. That’s how QuixSupply was born,” says Freeman.
At QuixSupply, Freeman is looking to help build “the Amazon of the construction industry” by bringing accountability to a system that remains largely cash-based—delivering everything from duct tape to pallets of Quikrete.
This is just one of the ideas Freeman has stored away in his shared holding company—a repository full of business ventures he one day hopes to pursue.
A Master’s in Networking
As a budding entrepreneur in his own right, Freeman considered studying finance instead. Ultimately, it was the extra-curricular benefits of the MIE program that swayed his decision.
“You can’t make a deal without a handshake, and this degree is like a master’s in networking,” he said.
“Each professor has been hand-selected for the program,” he continued. “Each has had successful companies and had successful exits from those companies.”
The MIE curriculum includes site visits, mixers, panels, and workshops. MIE students are connected to resources like Wayfinder, an incubator that connects UCI start-ups with the resources they need to become businesses, and the Tech Coast Venture Network, an organization that provides education and networking opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. This is why Freeman gambled on the first MIE program in the UC system.
“I can’t just walk up to the president of the Tech Coast Angels if I’m not in this program,” he said. “The resources alone have been worth it.”
A Community of Entrepreneurs
The 41 students in the program have formed a tight-knit community. Freeman explains that their individual successes do not diminish the achievements of others, leading to a supportive environment.
“We are together all day, every day, at every single event. We want to help one another and see each other succeed. My classmate’s successes are my successes.”
As part of the MIE program, each student is encouraged to participate in the School’s New Venture Competition, presented annually by the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The competition is open to all UCI students and staff; teams compete for $100,000 in cash prizes. Participants develop a business plan and pitch their idea to a panel of judges.
Freeman’s entry is a call-back to his original dream of venture capitalism. He will be pitching Waypoint Ventures, a tool for both investors and start-ups. Waypoint Ventures will aggregate the cumulative wealth of angel investors to help them pool their resources and invest in larger, safer investments. On the start-up side of the business, the company will help prepare start-ups for their next round of funding by retooling their workflow and revenue models.
After graduation, Freeman will continue to nurture his business ideas and challenge the status quo by focusing on the culture of the companies he’s involved in. “Across the different industries I’ve been exposed to—real estate, finance, now I’m in construction and venture capital—the one constant is people. People are the same. I want to be intentional about building a culture based on its people.”
Freeman explains that culture should be tailored to the people that make up a company and take into consideration their different needs and desires.
When describing his vision of a successful business, he focuses on talent:
“I want to get a pulse on our talent and provide them with the tools they need to succeed,” he said. “Talent is what makes up a company. Without your talent, you don’t have a company, you have an idea. Ultimately you want your employees to work not for you but for the company.”
MIE Faculty Director and Associate Professor Chris Bauman says that Jon Freeman is emblematic of the spirit of the program.
“This is a hands-on program where we learn by doing,” said Bauman. “Students will get closer to their entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial goals by developing their ideas and getting connected to the people and organizations best positioned to help them succeed.”