Montclair State University students that are current and future entrepreneurs, filled University Hall’s Conference Center on Oct. 21 for the panel “Finding Success as Food Entrepreneurs.”
The panel was held as the first event of a two-day program, and as part of the sixth annual Women Entrepreneurship Week (WEW) hosted at Montclair State. WEW is celebrated globally by more than 200 universities in 30 countries, from Oct. 19 to Oct. 26.
Both events at Montclair State were free of charge to attendees and included free childcare to parents for the Oct. 23 event.
According to montclair.edu, WEW was created in 2014 by the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State. The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship has a special mission to support and nurture women entrepreneurs.
Before the panel began, attendees were able to try food from the five sampling tables that featured women entrepreneurs: Belle John’s Soul Food, Kurly Kürtosh, Lily Lyte Vegan Snack, Three Daughters Baking Company and Undercover Chocolate Company.
“Finding Success as Food Entrepreneurs” featured: Risa Magid Boyer, chef and owner at Vanilamore, Caroline Mak, director of Hot Bread Kitchen Incubates and co-founder of Brooklyn Soda Works, Christine Miller-Allen, founder and head baker at Mo’Pweeze Bakery, Kris Ohleth founder and owner at Garden State Kitchen and Sandra McNeil Rodgers, founder and head chef at Sandie’s SoulBites. The panel was moderated by Rebecca King, food and dining writer at northjersey.com and The Record.
Panelists were candid about their experiences and spoke about the processes involved in starting a business: having an idea, filling out the paperwork to make that idea or business a reality and eventually learning how to sustain its profitability.
Rodgers opened Sandie’s SoulBites, located in Morristown, New Jersey, in August 2019 and spoke to the need of surrounding yourself with reliable individuals.
“Solidify a solid team, speak with your contractor [and] your electrician and make sure that they know how to apply for a permit and what happens after that permit is granted,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers discussed the importance of having a good team.
“I think it’s important to have a solidified team of people that know the ins and outs of the town ordinances and everything that the town requires,” Rodgers said. “It is a learning curve, [and] you learn a lot yourself. You have to be hands-on, but if you have a good team of people the process can be fairly easy.”
Panelist, Mak, discussed what she learned in the startup of her first business, Brooklyn Soda Works, and talked about scale and production, how to a sign a large commercial lease, working with distributors and hiring staff.
“Ultimately, what [I] did learn was that we did not learn how to pass on a business to someone else,” Mak said. “That’s a really common mistake entrepreneurs have. What does your business look like if you need to step away? It could be anything: parenthood, wanting to take a six-month sabbatical. There are a million different ways in which you may need to step away from your business. Now, how do you plan that?”
Eliesa Odza, a sophomore accounting major, was excited to hear from successful entrepreneurs.
“I came to learn from these women who opened up food businesses because it might bring me an opportunity to open one myself,” Odza said. “Even if my business doesn’t have to do with food, it was a really great experience to learn from them.”
Elena Baquerizo, a junior marketing major, was at the panel to make up for not being able to attend a WEW event last year.
“I feel like there’s not a lot of events about women in business at Montclair State, so the fact they do events for a week is really nice,” Baquerizo said.
Diana Solano, a senior nutrition major, found out about the event through her email.
“I came to this event because I am really interested in learning from people who have experience in businesses,” Solano said. “I am very passionate about cooking and nutrition, and I am looking forward to open or have my own brand soon developed.”
Abbey McGovern, a junior animation and illustration major, and Maia Sason, a senior visual arts major, attended the event as part of their entrepreneurship classes.
“I found all their advice to be really interesting and impactful, not just in the cooking area, but definitely for other areas too, like art I can see it,” McGovern said. “I think it’s really helpful to come to these events even if you’re not necessarily an entrepreneur.”
Sason took plenty of notes at the event and was inspired by panelist Ohleth, who shared with the audience her realization that if she had not gone through with opening her business then she would have regretted it.
“It inspired me to think about the ways that I sometimes have these opportunities that I could take and sometimes I’m thinking ‘Oh, maybe I could let them pass,’ but then later I regret them,” Sason said.
Sason talked about what empowered her the most about the event.
“Seeing women in the role of leadership and power, empowers me and other people in that scenario to see that it’s possible,” Sason said. “Seeing somebody that made it gives you a route to make it yourself.”