2015 Best MBAs: Katlin Smith

Katlin Smith - Chicago-PoetsAndQuants

Katlin Smith

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

As an entrepreneur, Katlin Smith made the most of her time at Booth. Despite launching her Simple Mills right before classes, she has grown it to a six-person enterprise with products in 500 stores. While this former Deloitte consultant has applied her newly acquired lessons from the classrooms to her business, she has been equally generous with sharing her startup lessons with aspiring entrepreneurs at Chicago Booth.

Age: 26

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Undergraduate School: UNC Chapel Hill

Undergraduate Degree: Business Administration & Biology Double Major

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Deloitte Consulting, Strategy & Operations Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? Simple Mills, Chicago, IL

Where will you be working after graduation? Simple Mills, Chicago, IL

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…one of my friends asked me the question: “What do you think will open more doors? Going to business school or not going to business school?” The answer was clear.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still working on Simple Mills, but the business would be much smaller and our vision would be much less ambitious! Going to business school helped open my eyes to the world of opportunity this business has, and how to actually make that opportunity achievable.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I believe there is great progress to be made in the food people have access to and are eating. I want to help raise industry standards of what is considered “healthy” and “nutritious.”

Favorite Courses: Negotiations, Entrepreneurial Selling, and The New Venture Challenge

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? I’m most proud of starting Simple Mills. I started the business right before business school.  In just a year-and-a-half, we have grown our store footprint to 500 stores nationwide, becoming one of the top-selling brands in natural baking mixes. We now have six full-time employees and offices in River North in Chicago. It’s been a ton of work, but we continue to see rapid growth and have an exciting road ahead of us!

Who would you most want to thank for your success? This is a difficult question. There are so many people are to thank for my success, I cannot pick just one. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful influences – my parents (Kay & Frank Smith) who have always encouraged me to go and do something great; terrific mentors in the natural food industry who have been in my shoes before and are helping me figure out the path ahead (including several Booth alums); and a wonderful coach who is helping me fine-tune my leadership skills (also a Booth alum). I couldn’t have done it without any one of them.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Booth for three reasons:

  • The people who attend the school. At admit weekend, I was completely impressed with everyone I met; everyone was not only sharp and ambitious, but they were down-to-earth and loved to have fun. It’s so rare when you find people with that combination of traits.
  • The huge amount of resources devoted to entrepreneurs: Booth has everything from investment competitions, incubators, entrepreneurs-in-residence, stipends for working on your business during the summer, and a huge listing of entrepreneurship courses – it’s an entrepreneur’s dream.
  • The flexibility in the program. As a student entrepreneur, I could not have succeeded without this. Booth doesn’t dictate which classes you have to take or when. There is only one required course. There aren’t many classes with mandatory prerequisites, and the school gives you the flexibility to take up to five years to graduate. This meant I could take the classes I needed to take, when I needed to take them, with the flexibility to focus on my business too. I didn’t find another program like this.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Meeting so many interesting, ambitious people who are going to have a great impact on their respective industries.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? Talking with close friends while riding ski lifts in Steamboat Springs during the annual Booth Ski Trip.

Fun fact about yourself: I spent the first five years of education in French Immersion School, in the United States. I didn’t have one English class until the third grade.

Favorite book: Fierce Conversations, about the art of having real, authentic conversations. These conversations are so critical to strong professional and personal relationships.

Favorite movie: About Time

Favorite musical performer: Keith Urban

Favorite television show: New Girl

Favorite vacation spot: Punta Mita, Mexico

What are your hobbies? Skiing, cooking, brunching with friends, traveling to new cities

Twitter Handle: @simplemills

What made Katlin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015?

“Katlin Smith is a phenomenal female entrepreneur who has shown incredible leadership among her fellow students and the Chicago start-up community.

Katlin has embodied so many of the traits we see in our highest achieving students and entrepreneurs: passion, commitment, perseverance, and an admirable blend of humility and self-assurance. These qualities clearly correlate to the early success she has enjoyed with her business venture, Simple Mills. Over the past year, she has hit major milestones in sales and product development, and closed a multimillion-dollar series A financing round while pursuing her MBA degree. Despite her laser focus on launching and growing her startup, Katlin consistently makes time to mentor others around her. She shares her start-up story at every opportunity with those eager to learn, and has personally mentored several other Booth students who have entrepreneurial aspirations. Katlin’s drive as an entrepreneur comes from a genuine desire to solve problems in the world – those she has experienced personally and those that impact the lives of family and friends around her. For all of these reasons, faculty, staff, and business leaders in the community have been eager to support her and to amplify her story. It is a pleasure to nominate her for this recognition.”

– Starr Marcello, director and COO, Chicago Booth Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

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