By Lori Atherton
As a University of Michigan undergrad, Eric Jarrett started a nonprofit foundation aimed at helping distressed families in Detroit. While working as a consultant in Washington, D.C., he developed the idea for a cookie truck. And as a Michigan Law 2L, he launched an online business selling men's pocket squares and handkerchiefs.
That entrepreneurial spirit has landed Jarrett—who graduated in December 2013—a coveted associate position at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, Calif. The prestigious Silicon Valley firm, where Jarrett recently worked as a summer associate, is known for representing high-tech companies, venture capital firms, and startups. Jarrett will begin working there next fall.
Just as musicians and artists find inspiration in the world around them, so, too, does Jarrett, who looks for opportunities to create "something out of nothing."
Jarrett's interest in business and entrepreneurship was sparked during his teen years when the Detroit-area native had the chance to visit major U.S. cities such as New York and San Francisco. "I began to notice that vibrant cities had vibrant business communities," he said. "Coming back to Detroit, I realized that the energy I felt in New York and other cities was missing, and I noticed that certain types of businesses were lacking. I decided that I wanted to be involved in business by creating wealth and value for people with the hope that one day I could play a role in revitalizing my city and state."
Helping Detroit happened sooner rather than later for Jarrett. During his freshman year at U-M's Ross School of business, Jarrett started the HBJ Foundation, a small nonprofit whose volunteers include his family, friends, and co-workers. Their goal is to create an "authentic family experience" for distressed families, particularly those who are homeless, during the holidays. Events are held at Detroit's Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) and include holiday gift giving, meals, and activities. "We want the children, who grow up in the worst conditions, to have the opportunity to feel special and feel like they are part of a community or family," said Jarrett, who remains involved with the organization today.
After graduating from U-M with his BBA in 2009, Jarrett moved to D.C. to work as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. Washingtonians, Jarrett thought, would enjoy sweet treats delivered to them at all hours, and the idea for a cookie truck was born. Instead of cultivating the business, however, Jarrett enrolled at Michigan Law, choosing instead to expand his knowledge of the law and gain new skills that could strengthen future entrepreneurial endeavors.
Jarrett took Law School classes that were business-oriented; they included two classes taught by Prof. Erik Gordon, director of the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law (ZEAL) Program: Entrepreneurial Exits and Venture Finance Law & Business. Both courses, Jarrett said, "provided me with insight I couldn't have gotten elsewhere. Prof. Gordon is an experienced veteran in the venture capital field on both sides of the table, and a number of lessons he taught I'm already utilizing and can see myself utilizing in the future."
He also took the Entrepreneurship Clinic for two semesters, which offered him real-world experience that was particularly helpful during his summer job at Wilson Sonsini.
Amidst the demands of classes and studying, Jarrett found time to co-create The Perfect Pocket with his friend/business partner, a graduate of U-M's Stamps School of Art and Design. Launched in 2012, the online men's retail accessories store specializes in creating pocket squares and classic handkerchiefs that accessorize men's suits. Jarrett handles marketing, contracts, and website development for the business while his partner works on design and production.
Michigan Law, Jarrett said, not only gave him an outstanding education, but was the right venue to connect with other liked-minded students who share his passion for entrepreneurship.
"It's been very rewarding here and has provided me with a great number of experiences and skills that will help me throughout my career," Jarrett said. "The special thing about Michigan, though—in addition to the actual legal studies—is the people. My peers really made the experience enjoyable and less stressful than it might have been at other top law schools. It was the perfect place to study law."