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MBA Entrepreneur finds venture support and founder lessons at W. P. Carey

W. P. Carey Full-time MBA student Jeff Watkins found funding, support, and lessons in entrepreneurship to help build his venture Proper Pack at ASU.

Rachel Clark
Full-time MBA student Jeff Watkins

Full-time MBA student and soon-to-be W. P. Carey alumnus Jeff Watkins (MBA ’24) has long been entrepreneurial minded. “My long-term career goal has been starting my own business for many years.”

Watkins received his undergraduate degree in entrepreneurial management from the University of Minnesota in 2021 and was drawn to Arizona State University to further his education.

“I chose to pursue an MBA to round out my entrepreneurship skills for ultimately starting my own business,” he says, crediting the funding, support, and lessons learned at ASU for helping kickstart his success. “My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and MBA students is to take advantage of the plentiful entrepreneurship resources at the university.”

Watkins has benefited from entrepreneurial opportunities throughout his time with the Full-time MBA program, including winning the New Venture Challenge entrepreneurship contest together with an MBA classmate. His winning idea Proper Pack is a sustainable alternative to beer packaging, which he will continue to run and build after graduation. The W. P. Carey School interviewed Watkins to learn more about his venture and experience as an entrepreneur in graduate school.

Why W. P. Carey?

Opportunities for growth both inside and outside of the classroom have helped Watkins develop his skills as a business owner. In addition to being part of ASU, the nation’s most innovative university, the W. P. Carey School’s approach to innovation and commitment to being an inclusive school Where Business is Personal® has created a unique educational foundation for his future.

“The most meaningful aspect of my education so far has been through learning new data-driven tools for running a business, along with the great network connections [I have developed] within our talented class,” he says. “I’ve transformed much of my initial approach to business strategy by now having the tools to put data behind various scenarios. This is aided by being surrounded by a diverse and talented set of classmates, all with their own experiences and skillsets.”

Entrepreneurial opportunities outside of the classroom have furthered his growth as a person and for his venture Proper Pack. “ASU has offered incredible opportunities to support my entrepreneurship journey,” Watkins says. “The New Venture Challenge, ‘Business is Personal’ seed grant, and the ASU Innovation Open have all advanced Proper Pack through seed funding, industry-proven entrepreneur feedback, and continuous pitch practice.”

Seed funding won through New Venture Challenge has been significant for Watkins and Proper Pack. “This seed award has allowed Proper Pack to significantly grow,” he says. “We’ve invested in building automated packaging equipment, a wide array of new products and designs, and our first batch of inventory to pursue Arizona microbreweries.”

Why entrepreneurship?

Full-time MBA student Jeff Watkins

The idea for Proper Pack started in 2019, sparked by a family member’s founding of a new brewery in Minneapolis. “I was surprised to see a huge lack in affordable, durable paper can carriers to get away from using plastic,” he says. “At the time I was working in packaging engineering and found many of the products our equipment was making could just as easily make paper can carriers.”

That company is now the supplier of Proper Pack paper can carriers. In his time with the venture, and his development as an entrepreneur in the MBA program, Watkins has grown as a founder and as a leader.

“I’ve learned entrepreneurship is a continual cycle of many, many losses leading to a small win which makes it all worth it,” he says. “Weeks and months may go by as we struggle to continually improve our products and process. However, along the way you pick up a small win by closing a new customer or unlocking the next level for your product. These small wins are more rewarding than any experience I’ve had in my career, which keeps me coming back.”

What's next?

The W. P. Carey MBA has helped Watkins hone his skills, and prepare for what’s next for his career and venture. “I’ve transformed as an entrepreneur and a leader through my newfound rigorous time prioritization and continual attempts to ‘think like a manager.’”

After graduation, Watkins plans to run Proper Pack part time, along with a part-time role in engineering packaging equipment for a microwave packaging company in his home state of Minnesota. “I’ll continue to target Arizona microbreweries and sustainability-focused beverage companies this summer,” he adds.

His last piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Pitch your idea.

“Pitch competitions offer one of the fastest ways to get valuable feedback on your business ideas along with the potential for seed funding to start the business without needing your own cash,” he says. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with how supportive the university has been throughout the entire MBA program.”

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