SMC ETS, MSU host entrepreneur camp

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, August 19, 2021

DOWAGIAC — A Southwestern Michigan College Educational Talent Search/Michigan State University Extension collaboration served 14 budding Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Niles and Edwardsburg entrepreneurs Aug. 9-13.

Students included: Mya Vazquez, Kaden Rankin, Makyah West, Khamari Mack and Kylie Lynch, Dowagiac Middle School; Amiah Scott, Ragena Roseberry, Bryce Linton, Elial Doyle and Camile Ritter, Edwardsburg Middle School; Kayla Grover and Melody Bussey, Cassopolis Middle School; and Yasmeen Sidavang, Brandywine Middle/High School.

On Tuesday, they picked the brain of someone their own age, Edwardsburg sophomore Jayla Noland, 15, who started Cakes by Jayla at 13. Though the cake designer seems an artist whose preferred medium is frosting instead of oils or watercolors, Jayla insists, “I’m not good at drawing or painting. I just have a good eye for where to put things.”

“When I was younger, my mom used to make me and my siblings special birthday cakes,” she said. “One year, for my brother’s birthday, I decided to help and found I actually enjoyed it, so I started doing it for all our family birthdays. A family friend asked if I could make her a cake and she would pay me. We put it on social media where lots of people saw it. I started taking it more seriously and began to invest money I made into purchasing tools and supplies to brand myself.”

“As my business grew,” she said, “I realized I couldn’t do it alone.”

Sso she built a team, relying on her mother to drive her to deliveries and her better-organized sister to track her schedule.

“Because I’m self-taught, I have the freedom to always be trying new things,” Jayla said. “Over time, I’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t. I’m always researching techniques on Pinterest, YouTube and TikTok. I’ve been able to add new products, such as cupcakes and cookies, and to create my own buttercream recipes for chocolate, peanut butter and peppermint. I can do weddings, graduation parties and baby showers.”

Besides “finding something you’re passionate about,” Jayla’s advice for would-be entrepreneurs is to “surround yourself with people who can make up for your weaknesses. Never be afraid to fail.”

Though her customers mostly come from around Edwardsburg, she received an inquiry from New Jersey.

Janice Zerbe, Van Buren County 4-H program coordinator, guided the five P’s: product (does it stand out from competitors?), promotion (how to convey information to customers), price, place (storefront, online, pop-up shop?) and people (target market).

Business Professor James Benak expanded on the five P’s on Wednesday using 11 bottled water products after a bus ride downtown to Baker’s Rhapsody and Dowagiac Farm and Artisan Market.

Bottled water represents a $19.6 billion industry that increased 7.2 percent this year. Still bottled water accounted for $13.7 billion in revenue, increasing 5 percent. Sparkling/seltzer/mineral products made $4.2 billion — an 18.2-percent jump. Jug/bulk sales added another $1.7 billion.

“We didn’t have cell phones, CD players or bottled water when I was kid. You can essentially get water for free [from a drinking fountain,]” said Benak, 50. “so why would people purchase it? It’s portable, which creates value. We create products for customer convenience. At your booths Friday, you’ll want to point out to the public what’s unique about your product, specifically why they should buy it because of its value to them. Marketing is the only activity in business that actually brings you revenue. Without it, nobody knows about your product.”

Benak began teaching at SMC 11 years ago, coming from hospitality.

“I opened and ran hotels and directed sales and marketing, pricing hotel rooms,” she said.

Students learned networking during Thursday’s Zoom call with Diane Longbach of the MSU Product Center and Brandon Campbell, director of Cornerstone Alliance’s Women’s Business Center in Benton Harbor, which supports Cass, Van Buren and Berrien counties.

Campbell, a Little Rock, Arkansas, native, and University of Iowa graduate, joined Cornerstone in 2020. The father of three daughters owned a small fashion business for 10 years after leaving the entertainment industry, including World Wrestling Entertainment, E!, NBC and Nickelodeon.

“I didn’t utilize any resources because I didn’t know they existed,” Campbell said. “I’ve had entrepreneurial ideas since I was 12, managing a singing group with my brother and cousins. If you have an idea, don’t sit on it. Entrepreneurship knows no age if you have the spirit in you. Don’t think about money. If you have a passion for providing customer service and solving problems, money will come.”

“Getting in there and doing it is the best teacher,” Longbach agreed. “You learn every time you fail.”

Longbach, whose daughter, 17, started a photography business, counsels food producers, from baked goods to pasta and hot sauce, developing packaging and marketing strategies.

“I started out thinking I wanted to be a psychologist,” she said, “so I have a bachelor’s degree in that and teaching certification. I started at MSU as a 4-H youth educator for about 10 years. The variety in my job gives me joy. I’m a people helper. Surrounding yourself with help will make you successful and more independent than if you try to do everything yourself.”

Friday’s pop-up market outside the David C. Briegel Building on the Dowagiac campus capped the week. Students voted to donate $867 they made to Cass County Animal Control.