A profiting business lies in cupcakes
By Thomas Silva
Jessica Cervantes takes 16 credits toward her biomedical engineering major, has a spot in the Honors College at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus, and sports a 4.0 GPA.
Oh, and did we mention, she runs her own business?
Cervantes, 19, is the owner, founder and president of Popsy Cakes. In 2008, thanks to a high school entrepreneurship class sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, she had the opportunity to participate in regional and national business plan competitions against almost 25,000 other students. Cervantes captivated the judges with her cupcake attached to an edible stick, winning first place and $10,000 to get her business started.
In 2009, a film called TEN9EIGHT presented the inspirational stories of several young entrepreneurs, including Cervantes, who took the challenge of participating in the NFTE competitions. The movie will be broadcast Feb. 7 on BET.
For a while, all the Popsy Cakes—also the name of the product—were made in her kitchen with the help of family members and friends.
“My dad learned how to decorate cupcakes for me when I needed it," Cervantes said. Her mother, Barbara Alvarez, agrees: "The entire family has been involved. Sometimes the orders were for 400 Popsy Cakes, and the whole family went to wrap them up, tie the ribbons, help her and support her. It wasn't easy."
The company has grown significantly, mainly due to media exposure. Its Web site (www.popsycakes.com) displays updated pictures and videos from press coverage, as well as links to articles written about the company and its founder. The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald, The New York Times and SOBeFiT are among the publications that have covered the Popsy Cakes story. Fox, NBC, and CBS have also given exposure to the business, and most recently, Deco Drive. The company also has a Facebook page with more than 300 fans.
The cupcakes are now made at a commercial kitchen provided by food caterer Bill Hansen, who Cervantes refers to as "an amazing mentor." Hansen graduated from Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, later joined the U.S. Navy and became an officer, and in 1980, started his own catering business. "I have always had an entrepreneurial passion, and I truly like to help people get started in business," said Hansen, who met Cervantes through the NFTE.
Although Hansen's experience and contacts in the food industry have been for the benefit of Popsy Cakes, he admits that "it's been an honor to be around someone like her," when referring to Cervantes. "She has a very decisive mind; she knows what she wants," Hansen said.
After a possible remake of the brand and its image, to allow entry into a broader market, Cervantes is considering expanding to other products. Most of the orders are taken directly from the Web site, Cervantes said, but she believes there is potential to grow much more, as to open Popsy Cakes boutiques "all over the country" in the future.
To her, success is defined as "having an adequate balance in your life. [Balance] means having a great family and having a great job." She likes to set time for her family and friends, but points out that "it's a bit crazy sometimes. My time is very split between full-time student and full-time business owner."
Cervantes’ agenda is usually full. "My biggest challenge has been time," she said. However, she takes the opportunity to give back to her community by offering free tutoring to students from John A. Ferguson Senior High School in the development of business plans. Cervantes is a spokesperson for the United States Hispanic Entrepreneurship Youth Education and participates in NFTE programs and events. “I love what I do. I love everything that I learn," Cervantes said.
There will be a special Valentine's Day production of rose-shaped Popsy Cakes wrapped with themed ribbons; nevertheless, the Web site offers a menu from which customers are welcome to customize an order using different cakes, shapes, colors, glazing, sticks and ribbons, at no additional charge.
Bill Hansen believes that Cervantes and her business have "a huge potential, a huge future."
Bill's forecast: "Look out, Oprah!"