Jack Ackerman (Class of 2018)

photo of Jack Ackerman

  • senior Entrepreneurship and Individualized Studies double major
  • minor in Interactive Media Studies
  • from Dayton, OH
  • designed a major that blends capital-intensive elements incorporating neuroscience and natural resources
  • created his own startup aviation technology company, HangarShare
  • selected by Silicon Valley Bank as part of the SVB Trek class of 2018
"Regardless of where you're going, having a transformative mindset is important — it's not just going along with the steps but asking why we're doing it that way. People are often afraid to question the status quo, but you just may come up with something really different. That's how you change the world, one innovation at a time."

Why Miami?

"My decision to attend Miami was twofold: an opportunity to study at a renowned university with top-ranked faculty, as well as the depth of financial resources Miami was able to provide. These ended up being the deciding factors in my enrollment. I had intended on starting in business, but an interest in economics sparked my interest in CAS [College of Arts and Science].

"My first semester was certainly unconventional, to say the least. I began at Miami's Middletown campus, working at the library there until I could afford to come to Oxford my second semester freshman year. If not for these pathways by means of available scholarships and aid, I would have likely remained in a far less fortunate situation without the opportunities I have been blessed with at Miami. Shifting from being a commuting student to physically living on campus and immersing myself into life here among my peers was a significant yet critical change as I continued to grow. As a sophomore, I switched to the Western Program's individualized studies major to leverage my own education within these disciplines as I broadened my base of subjects throughout that year.

"At Miami I have come to appreciate the quality in which my faculty and peers carry themselves, and these traits hold true in all of the alumni I have met as well. I've been fortunate to establish relationships with not only my own professors from various classes but also with some in different departments who I'd never had in class! I would encourage my peers to do likewise — the guidance and knowledge they will bestow upon you will last far longer in your life then any late-night excursion Uptown will.

"You will build tremendous relationships here that are lifelong. Faculty will help guide the manner in which you continue to learn and grow, and I feel that I will not only remain closely connected to my friends but also to future generations of faculty and students over the common bond we all share."

Best Miami Experiences

Jack Ackerman (right) discusses strategies with other SVB Trek students.

"One of my most memorable experiences at Miami was starting an aviation technology called HangarShare. We had worked with pilots flying into regional airports who need hangar space. It was a tremendous experience to have a taste of building the earliest parts of a company as a Miami student.

"During my junior year, I was able to move to San Francisco to take part in a program called SFDI - San Francisco Digital Innovation through the support of Miami's Interactive Media Studies (IMS) program and a scholarship obtained through Western. Through the SFDI program I was able to work at a startup for 4 days a week and build an incredible network of individuals. San Francisco was a spectacular opportunity to lean on the core of my education from CAS while working alongside some of the brightest minds in the world.

"Key faculty in my entrepreneurship co-major have been professors Tim Holcomb and Mark Lacker and professor and founding director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship Brett Smith. They have all provided fantastic guidance that has enabled me to grow as a leader as I prepare to be a future founder.

"On the CAS end of the spectrum, professors Hays Cummins and Western Program director Nicholas Money have helped tremendously in shaping my inquiry of the status quo and fostering greater responsibility over my own education.

"My self-designed individualized studies major in Western focuses on both neuroscience and natural resources. Although these fields don't seem to align, they're capital-intensive industries that are ripe for innovation. They focus on the push towards the frontiers of science, and in creating my own major I've been looking at the forefronts of neuroscience and energy/natural resources while examining how to solve some of their toughest problems. My Western background has allowed me to take a step back and apply a certain level of questioning, which leads me to the big picture in building out a new idea and strategy.

"Looking back at my Miami experiences now as a senior Western student, I see that the benefits of defining my education have appeared over time. Early on I had made a blind push to be in the business school, but even when all that remained was calculus I ended up dropping it over the summer — and abandoning my goal of entering Farmer was one of my most painful decisions.

"However, I had also decided not to allow a major to define my future; rather, it was the knowledge I would accrue that would do that. In the 3 years since then, I've interned at various investment banks, including a derivatives group, and have realized that you simply have to own your education. If you fall in love with what you're learning, you will always feel challenged and inspired.

"The openness of Western, which allows you to choose your own path, was key for me. Western offered me a completely different ideology, helping my ideas become more analytical, dynamic, and receptive to the world. I live with two roommates who are partisan in their political beliefs, but I feel that I can conceptualize both sides of the conversation without bias. The Socratic style of inquiry that Miami has helped me develop allows me to thrive as an entrepreneur by looking beyond the first right answer. This is a point my marketing professor Jim Friedman has pushed us on, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Both of my majors are in relatively small departments, so they feel personalized and give me the benefit of knowing everybody. Once you reach that level of comfort, it becomes easier to learn who you are and how your decisions help to reflect that. Your expectations are often self-guided because you are setting the bar for yourself, and I love that challenge.

"All of my favorite Miami classes have utilized different disciplines. For example, I took a 'scrum' entrepreneurship class, ESP 321, which is a great opportunity for anyone interested in working at a startup in the future. During a two-week timeframe, we had to collaborate as a team from ideation to launch of a product for a real client. That was a tremendous and impactful experience which allowed for me to hit the ground running when I landed in San Francisco.

"The rich liberal arts background I've gotten from the College of Arts and Science, and Western in particular, has given me a holistic perspective that helps me learn how to think and focus a lens on my goals. I took a pair of entry-level Western Program courses (WST 201 and 301) that were formative for me. We read a book called The Creative Class, which talked about how highly creative people drive all the innovation in society, culture, and economics. Everyone else envelops into that. Those are the types of moments that really wake you up to where you fit in the world.

"I see it like climbing a mountain — that first 10,000 feet is learning how to think and doing all the legwork. The next 10,000 feet is the knowledge in your respective fields and building a real depth of competency, whether that's in neuroscience or solar energy. Finally, at the peak of the mountain, is where you build your connections — with professors and alumni, with people in your field. These relationships provide a breakthrough that puts you over the clouds, where new opportunities come into view.

"As a whole, CAS puts you in touch with so many disciplines. You might jump from philosophy to geology or biology, whatever major, but exposing yourself to that variety is how you truly learn. While building a new competency in an entirely new discipline can last you for life, a path that's too structured or linear is eventually going to be heading into a brick wall. This is why I see the value in CAS as being the ability to pick up a new topic quickly and run with it.

"Harnessing and directing your learning gives you more control and leverage of yourself. It's a difficult process, but it makes learning so rewarding and can be whatever you choose. You really just have to find fulfillment and energy in that process — and doing so is what makes a great founder and innovator for a company."

Collaborating with Cutting-Edge, High-Tech Entrepreneurial Minds

"Last spring and summer, as part of Miami's Digital Innovation Program, I lived in a house in San Francisco among 20 other students and worked on my own startup for 5 months. It was from that experience that I became interested in the SVB Trek program, which I participated in during J-Term 2018.

SVB Trek 2018 participants pose for a group photo. Jack Ackerman is in the white shirt in the rear left.

"The SVB Trek Program is hosted by Silicon Valley Bank, a commercial bank that lends to the earliest entrepreneurs — people who have just founded their company, gotten venture funding, and need to start paying people and begin their business. SVB is really innovative in that way. They put in a lot of thought behind the risks that they take, but they do a great job of building that vital entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"What was fascinating about the Trek Program was the educational diversity of the participants — medicine, environmental studies, engineering, neuroscience, economics, business, and many others. I was one of more than 20 students from all over the world, all founders in the emerging technology space.

"The program featured salon-style sessions with founders from tech companies such as Google X, Ross Intelligence, 23andMe, Evernote, and EventBrite. All these companies are involved in fascinating, cutting-edge technologies that focus on such diverse things as scanning your genomes for ancestry and medical information, developing self-driving cars, and fighting diseases like malaria by using genetically modified mosquitoes.

"One of the things that amazed me during the internship was that the next generation of entrepreneurs is taking a lot of ideas from both the liberal arts and traditional businesses and digitizing them. For example, one of the founders we met was from Ross Intelligence, which is focused on uploading all legal documents across the U.S. and building software that can search for and find things immediately. Instead of lawyers and legal assistants needing hours to track down this information, soon they'll be accomplishing it all in a few seconds. This gives law firms a greater opportunity to be more efficient and dynamic when preparing briefs for their clients.

"We saw how technology spans a horizontal bandwidth that people have begun calling the 'internet of things.' It began with the existence of the internet and continues to the next stage, which is focused on building and improving the infrastructure. Finally we have begun to focus on taking just about everything — our phones, watches, cars, dog leashes, and so on — and connecting them to the internet and essentially to each other. You don't necessarily need to know a lot of coding. Whether you're coming from philosophy or microbiology, you can create a startup that incorporates the internet of things.

"From my experiences of being a founder, investing in a company, and being part of the SVB Trek program, I've gained a profound appreciation that any background can lead to the founding of a company. Founding a company is a lot like developing a major in the Western Program — it's highly inquisitive and sometimes disorienting, requiring you to find your way and lean on your mentors.

"That question of 'why?' I think, is the biggest push for the liberal arts and CAS. You can look at history and realize that advancements in technology and efficiency came about because someone was interested in tweaking and making improvements. It's very powerful, allowing you to find opportunities and create true innovation in spaces where others just glance over.

"Because I'm planning to go into venture capital, I think having a knowledge base that extends across all these different departments in the CAS and beyond helps me understand where these innovative founders and their technology are coming from. I gained a far greater appreciation for all this, and I'm really looking forward to getting out there and helping the next generation of Miami students!"

Advice to Students

"It may sound like a cliche, but I strongly advise you to take as many different courses as you can. Try to figure out fairly quickly what you enjoy doing and what you hate. Ask yourself, 'Where do my strengths lie?' and 'Would I do this on a Saturday morning?' If you can get up at 6 am on Saturday and have that passion to conduct research in a lab, write a novel, or lead an archaeological dig, you can probably do it with that same energy every single day. It may be difficult, but when you graduate, you will have purpose in your day because you took the time to explore your opportunities at Miami.

"I also suggest getting to know some professors in areas you are interested in. It's just like having a more knowledgeable best friend to bounce ideas off of as you continue to learn. To learn how to innovate, focus on understanding the process.

"For example, if you're in a chemistry lab where you need to follow 12 different steps, ask them, 'Why these 12 steps?' Think about combining those steps into maybe 3 or 4 efficient steps. If you could condense that whole process, you could help transform chemistry! This might save someone an hour of time, which could allow them to do 5 extra tests in a day that eventually lead to the next major breakthrough.

"Regardless of where you're going, having a transformative mindset is important — it's not just going along with the steps but asking why we're doing it that way. People are often afraid to question the status quo, but you just may come up with something really different. That's how you change the world, one innovation at a time."

[February 2018]