Friday Nooner: UNC Professor, Entrepreneur And Astronaut Jim Kitchen

Welcome back to another Friday Nooner! This afternoon, Jackie joined Joe and Pete from inside SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom abode (no, her background is not relevant to today’s guest). The crew reached the general consensus that SpongeBob can be considered “old.”

In local tech news, Pete mentioned CED’s Venture Connect summit, which will take place next Wednesday and Thursday (March 29-30) in RTP. Hopefully Pete won’t get too overwhelmed by the herds of people dying for his autograph. The number of GrepBeat humans that will be at the event is still unclear, but rest assured that we will have a table present. On a national note, President Biden will be coming to the Triangle (Durham, specifically) to celebrate Wolfspeed’s initiative to build a $5B factory in Chatham County to make semiconductors. 

Before welcoming this week’s guest, the GrepBeat team discussed their weekend plans and reminded everyone to buy their Very Early Bird tickets to June 1’s Grep-a-Palooza 2 because the special rate ends on March 31. In more GrepBeat news, our For Starters podcast finished its second season on Tuesday with an episode featuring serial entrepreneur Jes Lipson, who is known for having one of the most successful bootstrapped software exits in the region. In a common Joe moment of humility, he reminded everyone that Bronto was the most successful bootstrapped software startup exit at one time. 

The gang then brought out this week’s guest, Jim Kitchen. Jim is a serial entrepreneur who teaches entrepreneurship at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He’s also a world traveler in every sense of the term. (We profiled Jim last March.) Here are some highlights from Jim’s time on the show. 

  • Jim has visited all 193 countries recognized by the U.N. Joe probed exactly what “visited” means, and gave an example of the time when he had a brief flight layover in Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean that’s part of France. Jim said that wouldn’t count—which Joe agreed with—and that besides, Réunion isn’t technically its own country so it wouldn’t make his list. Jim said his general criteria for considering a country “visited” is to have a meaningful experience in that place. Being on a plane or walking around an airport does NOT count. Though one place Jim hasn’t been to is Bermuda, which is actually the only place Jackie has visited outside the country. (Note: Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory and thus not on the U.N. list.)
  • Not only has Jim been to every “official” country, he’s also been to space. Yeah; he’s that well-traveled. Jim described his astronaut experience last year on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spaceship and detailed the epiphany he had while viewing the vastness of the universe right in front of his eyes. Jim said his time in space has changed him personally more than it has professionally. “There are no boundaries or barriers,” he said. Jim remarked that his newfound perspective, both literally and figuratively, fundamentally changed the way he thinks of the world.  
  • With the three pounds of stuff he was allowed to carry onboard, Jim brought several prized possessions, including a (deflated) basketball signed by Michael Jordan and Dean Smith, his 12 passports (including a non-official one from Capetown, South Africa), and four or five thousand stickers reading “This Sticker Flew In Space” that he now gives away.
  • The gang barely had time to talk about entrepreneurship what with all the travel and space talk, but maybe they can have Jim on again in the future.

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