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From Doubtful Baker To Confident Businesswoman: UpStart Takes Maria’s Sweet Creations To The Next Level

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Six months ago, former first-grade teacher and baking enthusiast Maria Hamilton wasn’t sure she wanted to be in business. Several years before, she’d left Cumberland Elementary School when she had her first child. Maria went from taking cupcakes to her children’s classrooms to baking wedding cakes. Soon, as friends started asking her to bake sweets for them, Maria’s hobby began supplementing her family’s income. She created a Facebook page and before long she had big clients, like Centra Southside Community Hospital, that used her for special events.

But, she wasn’t sure she could pull off owning her own business. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I really going to do this or should I go back to teaching?’” she says. “I wondered if I could run my own business.”

It wasn't until she attended the UpStart Entrepreneur Bootcamp [link to registration website], presented by Virginia’s Growth Alliance, that she decided to take the leap.Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 4.35.39 PM

“The expertise, support, interactions with instructors, and camaraderie with my classmates really made a difference,” says Maria. “I’d probably still be sitting on the fence if it wasn’t for that class.”

The six-week course helped Maria determine that her business was viable. The most useful tool was a financial projection spreadsheet that allowed her to look at her cash flow and see where her money was going.

“I could see how much I actually made. Now I can set goals,” says Maria. The last night of the bootcamp, Maria pitched her business—Maria’s Sweet Creations [https://www.facebook.com/mariasweetcreations12]—to potential investors. To prepare, she did some market research, looking at what her competitors offered and charged. “The market research and spreadsheet made me confident in my pricing,” says Maria.

Now, Maria has her business license and is considering crowdsourcing funds to expand her kitchen. And, when she has a question, she knows who she can contact for help, using the follow-up consulting services offered by Sheri McGuire, Longwood University’s Small Business Development Center [http://sbdc-longwood.com]. “I’ve recommended UpStart to several people,” says Maria. “It’s a great course for anybody, if they’re just starting out or if they’re business has been going a couple of years.”

UpStart was a sweet deal for Maria. She left empowered. It’s also a sweet deal for her loyal customers. Anyone who has tried Maria’s bacon bourbon cupcakes is glad she decided to stay in business. You can’t have just one.

Upstart Entrepreneur Bootcamp is being offered again this May. It is open to any aspiring business owners living in the VGA region, which includes Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Lunenburg, and Prince Edward counties, and the City of Emporia.

To register visit www.thinkbiggervga.com/grow

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Jeff, Executive Director of VGA, grew up in a rural county in West Virginia and his family still lives on the farm that has been in their family since 1841. Jeff's passion is rural economic development, and his economic development experience has always been in smaller, rural communities. He was a primary and driving force behind www.mountainmade.com, a national pilot project with the Robert C Byrd National Technology Transfer Center that showcased the internet as a rural economic development tool.

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