Mount St. Mary's make global impact with cupcake bizby Patrick J. Buechi, WNY Catholic
A team of students from Mount St. Mary Academy flew to South Korea on the wings of cupcakes. The girls presented a business plan for their confectionary company Sweet Fortunes to the judges of SAGE.
SAGE, or Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship, is a curriculum used at the Mount's honors program. It teaches everything needed to know about starting and growing a business.
Students of the Kenmore school have started four fully functioning businesses, including party planning, monograming, jewelry making and cupcake selling. Three of those businesses competed in regionals, two made it to nationals, and one, Sweet Fortunes competed in the World Cup in Seoul, South Korea, placing third.
Sweet Fortunes uses a unique recipe and a unique design. They sell fortune cupcakes. Each cake comes with a laminated strip of paper sticking from its top, offering a thought for the day. Single orders come in a cardboard Chinese takeout box. The idea came straight from the stomachs of its creators.
"First we thought of food, but we didn't know how to do a creative twist on food," explained CEO Sara Ngo, 17, the day after arriving home. "After a couple weeks of shouting out ideas, we thought about cupcakes, things that girls love here. Then we thought of cookies. Then we happened to combine them. That's how we came up with the idea of fortune cupcakes."
Since the spring of 2014, a team of 14 students has baked the cupcakes at the school and sold them to fellow students and neighboring high schools. Then they branched to catering graduation parties and bridal showers, all the while keeping an eye on profits, in preparation for competitions that took them to D'Youville College in Buffalo for regionals, San Francisco for nationals, then finally to Asia for the World Cup.
In South Korea, they competed against 12 countries/businesses, delivering a full annual report listing the profits and expenses, along with the history of the company, succession plan and sustainability.
"The judges have 10 minutes to look over that, read it and grade that," said Julia Badgley, 16, the company's chief operating officer. "Then we had 20 minutes of presentation time. We had 13 minutes to basically present the same thing, then a seven-minute question and answer period."
A panel of 25 judges asked them questions covering everything from nutrition factors to global impact.
"It was a wide variety of questions. You could get asked anything when you were up there," said Emma Murphy, 17, executive planer.
Sweet Fortunes, technically owned by Mount St. Mary Academy, has a gross income of $4,200, with a profit of just over $1,400. All profits from the four companies go into accounts managed by the school. Money raised from a Cupcake Extravaganza funded trips. Some profits also go charities to meet the global impact criteria.
The success in Seoul came as a surprise for the girls, who came in last at nationals a year ago. But to be fair, they competed after being in business just a few months.
In round one this year, they beat out Nigeria and Kazakhstan before going on to finals.
"(Nigeria) took recycled materials and turned them into tiles that they were able to sell," said Murphy. "We were really compelled by their story because they said how this was a chance to start a better life for themselves. This would give them skills to be a leader in the future. We were really impressed with their story."
"We were thinking, we're just a bunch of girls selling cupcakes. How can we compete? But, we have a good business. It's not on the same level, but because we are profitable, we can give back to the community," added Badgley.
They owe their success to advice of their teacher, Tim O'Shei,
"Mr. O'Shei has always told us, 'Worry more about the business than the actual presentation itself.' It's not a show. We're showing what we did. That's the model we use and will continue. Business first. Presentation later," Ngo said.
After the competition, the girls heard from guest speaker Ndaba Mandela, the grandson of anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, who spoke about his grandfather's legacy.
"It was up close and personal. You really got to know his stories about South Africa and what he does. It was really cool," said Emily Ngo, 16.
The team plans to continue and even expand the business. "A big goal of mine right now is strengthening the brand, Sweet Fortunes. That's my vision for next year," said Ngo. "A lot of things of strengthening include revitalizing our logo, having our own special font. So getting our logo out there, being big into advertising."
The cupcakes are packaged in Chinese takeout boxes. Ngo also wants to customize their boxes using their signature shade of purple.
"You see pink boxes for Georgetown Cupcakes or blue Tiffany boxes. Those are all recognizable. That's what I'm aiming to do next year with the purple Chinese takeout boxes," she said.
Currently, they are talking with a lawyer to patent boxes and copyright fortunes. They will also invite younger students to join the company so that it will remain running after the current staff graduates.