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Sweet success: How Tristen Phipps created a cupcake business

Tuesday, July 12 2016 12:00am

After completing the Certificate in Entrepreneurship, Tristen Phipps, ‘16 had all she needed to found Sugar Tree Sweets, an Athens-based cupcake company.

By Brianna Wilson

Tristen Phipps, ’16 was poised to be a journalist—until she discovered a love of baking.

Phipps grew up cooking with her father, but never developed an affinity for baking. After being sexually assaulted and enduring the nine-month court case that followed, Phipps developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and found herself unable to sleep at night.

“At first, I was drawing and painting, but quickly lost interest, so I started baking brownies and cakes as a coping mechanism,” she said. “Following a recipe and concentrating on decorating helped me not think about everything else that was going on.”

When her great aunt asked if she could bake cupcakes for her cousin’s birthday party, Phipps was pleasantly surprised—she hadn’t thought of selling her baked goods. She agreed, and earned a second order from someone at the party. From there, business snowballed.

A few months later, Phipps learned of the Certificate in Entrepreneurship. After allaying her adviser’s concerns—she was, after all, a junior who planned to graduate early who also wanted to add additional classes—she met with Luke Pittaway, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. Pittaway suggested she take an independent study with him in addition to the other required certificate courses to better develop her business, given her limited timeframe.

In just a semester, Phipps developed a portfolio of competitor cupcake flavors, surveyed more than 100 people about their preferred flavors, and conducted a series of taste tests. The end result? A final cupcake menu and clearer understanding of what it meant to be a business owner.

“The certificate helped me realize the logistics behind running a business—it’s more than just producing and selling things,” she said. “It equipped me with everything I needed to be successful.”

After competing in the Center’s annual Elevator Pitch Competition, she received an email from Faith Knutsen, associate director of TechGROWTH Ohio, an on-campus resource that helps start-ups with business development and funding.

“She and Lee [Gellermann, executive director of TechGROWTH] had seen my pitch and were interested in helping me develop my business,” explained Phipps. “They connected me with the Small Business Development Center, who helped make my business legitimate.”

Now, business is booming. As for her PTSD, that’s improved, too. “Turning baking into a business helped turn something that was so negative for me into something really positive,” Phipps said.

More about Sugar Tree Sweets

Sugar Tree Sweets’ cupcake offerings include Kit Kat, funnel cake, and cookie dough—to name a few—but Phipps is excited to try anything people can throw at her. Her base price is $24 per dozen.

Contact Phipps via the Sugar Tree Sweets Facebook page.

Read Phipps’ posts “For the Love of Cupcakes” on Speakeasy Magazine to learn more about her journey from journalist to entrepreneur.