It was always bigger than football for Jaylon Smith.

Raised in a town like Fort Wayne, IN, Smith connected with his purpose early on, describing himself as a natural-born visionary. By age 11, he developed aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur, following in the footsteps of his mother, who ran a daycare business for 13 years, he told AFROTECH™ in an interview.

Yet, that was not his only early-seeded vision. He also hoped to play in the NFL when he was 7, but he knew his calling would extend beyond the field.

“I never wanted to be remembered as just being a great athlete,” Smith told AFROTECH™.

Sports agent Eugene Parker, who worked with football greats including Deion Sanders, guided Smith and taught him valuable lessons. The two connected through Smith’s grandmother, Parker’s aunt.

“I had to take a lot of principles of what I learned from him and just from observing him,” Smith said. “He had a huge impact on a lot of Hall of Famers, a lot of the greats that played the game. So, just getting a chance to learn from him, he taught me a lot about value over cost and how to manage relationships. And then from there, it just kind of took off.”

Smith mentions that his football program earned him four state titles while attending Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne. Smith would then have a successful playing career at the University of Notre Dame.

In 2016, Smith became the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round draft pick, 34th overall, for the NFL, Pro Football Reference reports.

However, during Smith’s first year in the league, he was recovering from his final college game injury. Despite the setback, Smith refers to this season of his life as a “blessing” as it enabled him to comprehend the business both on and off the field. Following his rehabilitation, he recalls participating in various business meetings where he familiarized himself with concepts such as return on investment (ROI), profit and loss, and budget prediction.

“I was just able to learn so much throughout that time, and it just kind of catapulted my career of understanding the importance of cash flow of networks and resources,” Smith recalled. “There’s so many different things that you can accomplish outside of the game, and I had a great foundation on that.”

When Smith returned to the NFL, he entered with a newfound mindset and felt more certain about how to leverage his status as a player to establish his legacy.

Minority Entrepreneurship Institute

Today, his impact can be seen in areas including investments. Within the past five years, Smith has invested $1.4 million in 13 Black-owned businesses through the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute, a seed-stage impact investing fund he created in 2019.

“We’re just trying to close the economic and educational gap,” Smith explained. “There’s a large gap with only 2% of venture dollars being invested in Black-owned companies. There’s a lot left that needs to be done, but we have to start somewhere.”

Jinya Ramen Bar

What’s more, Smith’s intention to cross into entrepreneurship is still in full swing. He is in partnership with Jinya Ramen Bar, which is set to establish additional franchises across the United States in 2024, according to information provided to AFROTECH™.

Jaylon Smith
Photo Credit: Jeremiah Jones

Smith says he was influenced by Junior Bridgeman, a former basketball player who amassed a $600 million fortune through the fast-food restaurant industry, as AFROTECH™ previously mentioned.

“This guy was able to get into this restaurant industry, become an expert, and grow his portfolio exponentially outside of playing the game that he loves, which was basketball,” Smith said. “So, he just kind of became my idol from afar, and that’s when I was like, ‘Man, one day I would love to become a restaurateur.’ And from there, it was just about finding the right partner. It was finding the right person I could learn from, the right expert because we all need help. If you learn from the right person, you can go out and do it. It took me a minute to find that guy, but I’m blessed to have the right resources around me now.”

Smith’s first Jinya Ramen Bar will open at the University of Notre Dame’s campus in November 2024.

“The sky’s the limit. We have about 60 locations right now in the entire company, and we’re gonna grow it. So to be a part of that is my forward thinking desire for sure,” Smith expressed.