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Phoenix Forward magazine

MBA grad makes a name for herself and her cupcakery

Kimberly Greenwell

“I’ve always had something in the oven,” Kimberly Greenwell says, laughing, about her decades-long baking career. “But for a lot of years, I was always in school, so baking took a back seat.”

Not any longer. Greenwell, who began baking as a young girl in her grandmother’s kitchen, expanded Simple Treats Cupcakery, the San Francisco-based specialty cupcake bakery she launched in 1992, into a full-scale catering operation late last year.

She’d already made a name for herself in the Bay Area as an innovative baker of customized cakes and cheesecakes but says she can’t imagine having expanded the business without her MBA degree from University of Phoenix, which she earned in 2012. “My course of studies enhanced the business skills I already had,” Greenwell says.

“I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, a business-minded family with several professional bakers and cooks, so owning my own bakery was going to happen,” she adds. “But my degree gave me more insight into finances and how to run a business.”

Among other things, Greenwell says, her degree program taught her how to effectively network, and use software programs and social media. “I was able to study marketing, project management and public speaking,” she notes. “Really, all the tools I needed.”

Her coursework also gave the entrepreneur insight into trends in her industry. She attributes the ongoing success of microfood businesses, for instance, to the current state of the economy.

My course of studies enhanced the business skills I already had.

“We’re in a recession, but people still need to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary,” she says. “Some of us can’t afford a whole cake, but a cupcake is still in our budget and can serve the same purpose. I learned to create a business that fills a need — like marking someone’s birthday with something you can put a candle in — while remaining affordable.”

Greenwell used this same self-styled business model to expand her business. “I took all my grandmother’s old Southern cooking recipes and put a modern twist on them,” she says, “like turning her collard greens into kale with caramelized shallots and prosciutto.” How to make everything old new again, while keeping her prices low, is something Greenwell says she learned in her MBA program.

That knowledge is something she’s anxious to share. “I want to make my degree work for others, and not just for me,” she says. “So I’m always telling young women in my community, ‘You have to get a business license, you have to have an LLC and a step-by-step plan.’” She says she also reminds them that getting a business degree can help them, too.

Of course, it’s possible to launch a new company without a business-based education, Greenwell acknowledges. But, she maintains, “you’d be doing it with a greater risk for failure.

“Without a business plan, a marketing strategy and the confidence that progressive thinking gives you — all things you learn in college — you’re kind of just throwing yourself out there,” she adds. “And that’s just not good business.”

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