Be X-ray binaries (BeXRBs) consist of rapidly rotating Be stars with neutron star companions accreting from the circumstellar emission disk. We compare the observed population of BeXRBs in the Small Magellanic Cloud with simulated populations of BeXRB-like systems produced with the COMPAS population synthesis code. We focus on the apparently higher minimal mass of Be stars in BeXRBs than in the Be population at large. Assuming that BeXRBs experienced only dynamically stable mass transfer, their mass distribution suggests that at least $\sim$ 30% of the mass donated by the progenitor of the neutron star is typically accreted by the B-star companion. We expect these results to affect predictions for the population of double compact object mergers. A convolution of the simulated BeXRB population with the star formation history of the Small Magellanic Cloud shows that the excess of BeXRBs is most likely explained by this galaxy's burst of star formation $\sim$ 40 Myr ago, rather than by its low metallicity.