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Young entrepreneur pursues multiple vocations, finds community in MEDA connection

By Eileen R. Kinch

Ask Jake King what he does, and you might hear a variety of answers: freelance consultant, research analyst, copy writer, house husband, entrepreneur.

A Goshen, Indiana native, King graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in 2009 with a degree in English. His career has taken him to Wall Street, Lancaster County, and more recently, his own home office.

King’s initial experience with business was one he “fell into.” A family friend was looking for a writer and researcher to help produce a newsletter for investors in the healthcare industry. A former editor of his college newspaper with an interest in finance, King entered a whole new industry.

“Every small pharmaceutical company is developing unique drugs,” King explained. “But 90 percent of [those drugs] fail. My job is to figure out who’s got a shot, or if there’s even a market for their product.”

To do that, he reads medical and scientific research, balance sheets, and analyzes the results of clinical trials. His published research focuses on which drugs are most likely to succeed — or not — in development. Finance and healthcare professionals, as well as individual investors, use the research to make investment decisions.

His first role was working remotely for PropThink, a company that produces online newsletters for investors in the healthcare and life sciences sectors.

In 2013, he moved to Brooklyn to work more closely with colleagues and to meet other people in the world of finance.

Even though New York City is full of people, it took a “conscious effort to find a community,” he said. King and his wife church-hopped in the city, but never found a congregation into which they felt wholly immersed.

Three years after coming to that area, they moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They live on his wife’s family farm. He continues to work as a freelancer and researcher in the healthcare sector — and does some investing of his own.

The New York experience — learning from and befriending investors, physicians, and analysts — was a great one. “I rubbed shoulders with some really talented people. I was never the smartest guy in the room, which made for tons of learning experiences.”

Jake KingJake King uses technology to give customers a better vending machine experience.

After coming to Lancaster County, he wanted to try something more tangible than the public markets. Knowing people are willing to pay for convenience — he points to the proliferation of “minute marts” —, King and his father-in-law purchased a small vending machine business and have grown it substantially.

Many competing machines are coin-operated only. He has enjoyed building his business around technology. “It’s a space that’s seen little change over the last 20 years. That has meant even some basic technologies have really set us ahead of the competition.”

He focuses on using technology to create a better customer experience. His machines accept credit cards and other digital means of payment, allow for remote inventory monitoring, and let customers contact the business directly. But the health and environmental consequences of the vending machine business sometimes nag at him. “We’ve tried making healthy foods a priority, but the unfortunate reality is that when we do, we [still] get lots of requests for sodas. People want their mid-day Coke pick-me-up. So, we try to always make healthier snacks and drinks an option in our machines, at the very least. I still haven’t figured out how to eliminate more of the plastic waste.”

King enjoys the entrepreneurial aspects of the business, sales, and customer relationships. He has learned much about himself, including the tasks he dislikes, since becoming a small business owner. “I like the building and growing, but long-term grinding is not my cup of tea.”

When he relocated to Lancaster County, King hoped to be close to family and to connect to the local community. Today, his son is part of the Lancaster Mennonite school system. His family enjoys their involvement with James Street Mennonite Church.

He loves the country setting, which offers a spectacular view of neighboring farms from his back porch. His freelance work allows flexibility to be with his family. “Living in New York was a great experience. But moving back to Lancaster has felt like reconnecting with our roots.”

King laments the solitary nature of research and consulting. Planning events with the Lancaster MEDA hub has been rewarding. He is also helping to plan the MEDAx track for the organization’s annual convention in Tucson this fall. MEDAx offers a series of seminars, events and a pitch competition designed for young professionals.

“MEDA’s mission and successes are absolutely something that resonate with my generation. I don’t feel equipped to assess poverty on a global scale, but (creating) business solutions (to poverty) and job creation are something I can totally understand. With MEDAx and chapter events, we’re trying to make MEDA approachable for a younger audience, and I think the story is just starting to be told.”