Written by Angela Petrone
Interviewed by Nikhil Chaganti
Jacob started his path through post-secondary education thinking he’d become a pilot, but shortly after he realized his Math grades were "not good enough". Jacob proceeded to give himself a second occasion, going to community college for pre-engineering studies.
Lopata is an Illinois Institute of Technology alumnus. Jacob earned his B.S in Aerospace Engineering in 1996, and his M.S. in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT in 1998.
Jacob’s interests in aviation and space accompanied him throughout his eventful career, made up of a number of losses and several wins to lead the way.
Right after his Master’s, Jacob was involved in the creation and development of several start-ups, until he decided to launch his own. Jacob and some colleagues wanted to raise money to launch a vehicle in space, so they started pitching their idea to investors. This didn’t work out, and eventually, Jacob was hired by one of the people he had been pitching for his own company.
About this time, Jacob remembers that working as a full-time employee felt frustrating, especially because he was in a position where he could see what was happening but was not given enough space to address the company’s issues. This experience made Jacob understand where he wanted to be and why: he enjoyed being in managerial positions because he knew the importance of setting the right culture within a company, and he wanted to do just that.
One year later, the company Jacob was working for went out of business.
This brief pause served as yet another learning experience for Jacob and his colleagues, who were now in a better position to go back to their company, pay their debts and completely change their strategy.
What Lopata values most out of his past experiences are the hiring mistakes that he made, and the people he had the opportunity to work with. Jacob stressed that the right people are essential for a company to work, however he was not always in the best position to make the best decision with regards to this particular issue.
One recent episode from Lopata’s career path also proves the importance of reading people, and making sure you know what you are doing in the pitching phase of a project.
In 2017 Jacob decided to take a break from tech. Despite his zeal for aviation and space remained alive, he wanted to get a breath of fresh air while still fueling his entrepreneurial spirit and following his drive for innovation. At this time the idea for Xoca was born. Jacob is currently the founder and CEO of Xoca World, a new food tech company and brand bringing to market a line of unique, all-natural functional beverages made from the discarded and under-appreciated parts of the Cacao Fruit.
Using a patent pending process, Xoca is up-cycling the juice of the Cacao Fruit in order to eliminate food waste and provide financial support to cacao farmers in Ecuador.
At the beginning Jacob remembers not having the connections and the experience needed to start a beverage company, but he worked his way around it, creating a network for himself and taking the necessary risks.
At this time, Jacob pitched his idea for Xoca to an investor, and established a working relationship with this person despite having a negative gut feeling about them. Their motives were not clear, and this was usually a warning sign from Lopata’s experience. However, the investor had put some money into the project since the very start, and Lopata was not in the position to say no to any kind of support. Despite their proven support, right before Lopata was ready to finalize a deal with this investor they said they didn’t want to work with Jacob anymore because they would use his idea and make it themselves.
Jacob could have seen this coming thanks to his previous experiences, and therefore this sudden twist wasn’t as damaging to him and Xoca. In fact, Xoca is now available online nationwide and even hit physical stores in Chicago in 2019. This makes the unfortunate episode just mentioned nothing but an event of the past, one of the several that have made Jacob Lopata as capable as he is to navigate the challenges of taking on entrepreneurial roles.
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