Three Buffalo State alumni—a cupcake designer, a contractor and manufacturer, and a jewelry designer—will share their stories of success during "Dare to Innovate!," the grand opening celebration for the college’s Year of the Innovator. Held on Thursday, September 18, at 6:00 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall, the two-hour event also will includes stories from two other local entrepreneurs in an interactive discussion that is free and open to the public. The event is sponsored by the School of the Professions and is part of Buffalo State’s observance of Constitution and Citizenship Day.
The Year of the Innovator aims to shine the spotlight on all aspects of innovation—from technological inventions to business startups to artistic endeavors—during the 2014–2015 academic year.
"Our kickoff celebration will provide a sampling of innovation from a diverse group of individuals who bravely took one idea and capitalized upon it," said Susan McCartney, director of the Small Business Development Center and event organizer. "Each of the speakers is tremendously talented. The fact that more than half of them are former Buffalo State students speaks to the level of innovation this campus demonstrates."
Raven Owusu, '14, president of Café Cupcake, is one of those students. In spring of 2013, she started making cupcakes as a hobby and a way to relieve stress. She brought a few of her creations to Spot Coffee in Williamsville where she worked as a barista manager. Her co-workers were impressed. Once the regional manager and executive chef got a taste, they commissioned Owusu to provide cupcakes for first one, and eventually, all seven Spot locations in the Buffalo area. Now every week, Owusu bakes 300 to 400 cupcakes in flavors ranging from cinnamon toast crunch to vegan pumpkin spice to sell through the coffee shops.
"I wanted to try to make something unique and outside the box," said Owusu, who studied hospitality administration at Buffalo State. "Before trying this, I had really never baked before."
Joining Owusu will be John Harris, '12, president of JPHii Design, a Tonawanda-based jewelry design company he started while pursuing a dual degree in anthropology and jewelry design at Buffalo State, and Jabril Shareef, a ’62, president of Living Green Insulation Products and Services, an award-winning contractor and manufacturer that uses an innovative recycling/manufacturing process. Living Green has five employees and also subcontracts skilled laborers.
The other two innovators on the panel are Charlotte Walker, chief financial officer of software company Doolli Inc., and Emily Stewart, co-owner of BreadHive cooperative bakery.
The panelists will touch upon the challenges they faced while starting their businesses. In Harris’ mind, the biggest obstacle for potential entrepreneurs is gaining confidence.
"It's easy to sell a product," he said. "What's hard is to convince yourself that what you have is worth selling."
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