Jessica Beaver’s childhood in Boca Raton set her up to be a startup’s best friend
When Jessica Beaver was growing up in Boca Raton, there was a moment when things in her home chilled out a bit. She was maybe 12 or 13, and, finally, her father’s business was taking off.
Beaver was about 4 years old when her father, a lawyer, started the first distance-learning program for paralegals. It was, it turned out, a fantastic idea. But like many businesses, it took years to perfect and finally turn into a success. “It was a struggle, for a long time, but he finally figured out how to make it,” Beaver recalls. “It’s the reason I look up to him.”
It’s also her daily inspiration—thinking back to the sacrifices her father made to make his business successful. Now, Beaver works with entrepreneurs like her father, helping bring promising ideas to the market and making them successful with quicker turnarounds, so they also don’t have to suffer through lean years.
Beaver is the assistant director and longest-tenured employee of Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway, an incubator and accelerator for local startups. It began five years ago and has had marked successes, helping to grow 93 companies that have created 587 new jobs and attracted $109 million in capital.
Beaver’s road to this job took some unexpected turns. Not long after college, she worked for the NBA in New York in the player development department. Her job was to work with young players to make sure they had the life skills to handle the pressure of pro ball plus newfound wealth. After three years at the NBA, she moved to The Related Group’s sales department before deciding to move back home to Boca in 2015.
She landed the job at Tech Runway and says she’s been amazed with the spirit of locals these days. “South Florida [is] so different than when I grew up and people would move away after school,” Beaver says. “More companies and younger people are staying here, and the younger generation now has grown up believing they can do anything. It really empowers them to pursue their good ideas.”
She says Tech Runway can help entrepreneurs skip those lean years with access to technology, mentors and the guidance they need to find success more quickly.
In November, the Tech Runway celebrated its five-year anniversary. It will open up applications in January for its next round of new businesses that will receive help, which includes $15,000 in seed money and a team of MIT-trained mentors.
Many of the entrepreneurs Tech Runway helps will become fixated with their ideas, staying until 2 a.m. many nights and forgetting to take a day off, she says. It often reminds her of the sacrifice her parents endured to make sure her father’s company made it. “I can remember the moment when they were finally able to take a deep breath,” she says. “I could see my parents relax for the first time, like, oh, we’re going to be OK.”