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Putting your MBA to work: How two UOPX graduates found success as small-business owners

By Elizabeth Exline

There are many reasons to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Maybe you want to get a job. Perhaps you want to advance your career. Maybe you want to switch careers. And while some MBA graduates may look for opportunities with existing companies, others seek a different path: small-business ownership.

The rewards of entrepreneurship go well beyond being your own boss, but so do its demands. Long hours, high financial risk and a multitude of responsibilities are part and parcel of this professional calling.

So, what makes it all worth it? For entrepreneurs like these two University of Phoenix (UPOX) MBA graduates, Felicia Evans Long and Nindi Wadhwa, it is both the glory of finding success and the satisfaction of owning and operating their own businesses. Read on to learn more about what they do, how they got there and what they’ve learned along the way.

Felicia Evans Long

Founder and owner of Sweet Candy Café

Long is no stranger to adversity. But along with life’s challenges — a childhood in the projects and surviving two hurricanes — comes steadfast determination to thrive.

Long earned her MBA in 2008, recognizing it was a necessary "springboard" for opening her own business. She opened Sweet Candy Café, a 92-variety-strong candy shop, in 2012. Located in downtown Lumberton, North Carolina, the business includes an intimate event space that Long has affectionately dubbed "The Parlor," where she hosts receptions and parties. Next door is a salon that Long also owns, and her plan is to eventually buy the entire block.

Long credits her MBA with teaching her the ins and outs of business ownership as well as the critical lesson of how to build professional relationships. When her storefront caught fire before the grand opening (and before she had insurance), Long reached out to every candy vendor to ask them to refill her order. "It taught me never to be afraid to look for and lean on professional resources and remain positive, even in the most difficult times."

"I would have started graduate school sooner, but I’m thankful for MY journey, MY path," Long says. She had been out of school for a decade before returning to pursue her MBA and found the transition difficult. She went on academic probation after her first class and used it as a guideline for what not to do during the rest of her academic career. In order to complete her studies on time and ahead of her other responsibilities, she would routinely wake up at 3 a.m. to focus on work and complete her tasks. "I didn’t want the program to feel like a chore."

To future business-degree graduates, Long offers these words of advice: "Don’t be discouraged. Initially, it will be an adjustment, especially if you have been absent from academia for years, but stick with it. The end will definitely be rewarding."

With success comes a drive to give back. Through Sweet Candy Café, Long is affiliated with a number of philanthropic efforts, including Candy Kids Wear Blazers and Tim’s Toys Project.

Nindi Wadhwa

Owner, Scooptacular

Nindi Wadhwa is the first to admit his pre-MBA background was pretty specialized. He holds a degree in biblical studies and an aviation technology diploma. "I knew I needed something to fall back on," he explains.

That something turned out to be an MBA from UOPX, which he received in 2010. As part of his final MBA class, Wadhwa had to develop a business plan, and it was from that that Scooptacular was born.

Wadhwa and his wife, Carissa, own the Laveen, Arizona-based ice cream shop, which features homemade scoops of creamy deliciousness. Scooptacular has also cultivated partnerships with businesses throughout the Phoenix metro area to expand its presence beyond the Wadhwas’ hometown storefront.

While Wadhwa has stepped back from front-of-house operations, his work behind the scenes heavily relies on his graduate education. In addition to accounting and marketing, Wadhwa points to his background in business law as having practical applications. It’s currently helping him renegotiate Scooptacular’s lease.

"I get to work on delivering ice cream to our wholesale accounts and seeking growth opportunities."

"Initially, anything negative — reviews, custom issues, etc. — would really bother me on a personal level. As time goes on, you start to realize that they can be worked through. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity."

"Opening up Scooptacular was a great way to apply what I had learned, and it enabled me to see firsthand different principles."


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