December 03, 2021 | Shelly DeJong

“There is so much potential and opportunity to expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Calvin. Tons of students want to start businesses,” said Calvin senior Daniel Kwik. “When you stick passionate students in a room for an hour and a half a week, and they commit to it, it’s inspiring to see what can be built.”

Kwik, a data science and marketing major, joined the student organization Calvin Start-Ups as a freshman. He learned quickly how to do business modeling on paper—how to think theoretically and strategically about businesses. But Kwik was interested in moving beyond the paper.

“In the real world, you’re not going to be a businessperson surrounded by businesspeople, right? You’re going to need designers. You’re going to need people smarter than you in different fields,” said Kwik. “What if Calvin Start-Ups brought together a team with diverse skill sets to work towards actually starting a business together?”

Kwik dreamed of a team that would walk alongside a Calvin student who wanted to start a business, supporting them along the way. But he also knew that they didn’t have monetary resources to give, and they had a lot to learn themselves.

“I knew we needed to find a really unique student who had the drive and the passion to start things up and running even without financial support—knowing that this is the first time that we’re doing this,” said Kwik.

Enter Leann Gasaway with College Cupcakes

“I’ve always wanted to have a bakery,” said 2021 graduate Leann Gasaway. “But it was important to me to have a business degree to go alongside it.”

Gasaway, then a senior studying marketing, entrepreneurship, and Spanish, heard that Calvin Start-Ups wanted to support a student-run venture. She knew it was a long shot, but she pitched an idea anyway.  

Her idea: bake homemade cupcakes and deliver them directly to college students.

“Students are feeling far away from home. They are feeling lonely, feeling the stress of school,” said Gasaway. “They want a reminder that someone who loves them is thinking about them. And we want to help do exactly that.”

“I really feel like it was God’s timing that we found Leann,” said Kwik. “She is such a talented individual and had the drive necessary to juggle her academics and her business at the same time.”

In January 2021, Gasaway started meeting with Calvin Start-Ups to make her pitch a reality. Calvin Start-Ups helped her think through the logistics of her business and connected her with the right people on campus.  Later that spring,  College Cupcakes was officially up and running.

“I couldn’t have done it on my own,” said Gasaway.

“The communal aspect is something that I think has helped Leann, but it has also just been great for us to witness how she’s been successful with her entrepreneurial goals,” said Kwik.  “One of the best moments of the organization was when the Career Center placed a large order of cupcakes for an event. We gathered together as a group and just celebrated.

Putting Theory into Practice

Calvin Start-Ups gives students a chance to put what they are learning into practice.

“A lot of student orgs invite guest speakers, and you end up having a lot of students who have these amazing skills just sitting there listening,” said Kwik. “Calvin Start-Ups wants to give students the chance to utilize what they are learning in class by putting it into a real-world context.”

Gasaway found this experience invaluable.

“My entrepreneurial classes at Calvin taught me to question and how to implement,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I’m wired this way, but I loved thinking innovatively and then testing it out to see if it worked. With College Cupcakes, it went from theory to actually doing it.”

It’s been a learning experience for Kwik, too. “I was reading some books on leadership that I had first read a couple years ago that had meant nothing to me,” he said. “But now that I’m actually managing people, suddenly these books hold so many truths!”  

Without any monetary incentives to offer, Kwik had to find new ways to get students invested.

“How do you create an environment where people want to be there despite having five exams the next day?” asked Kwik. “That’s been incredibly challenging but also a really great learning experience for me, which I know will help me in the future.”

What’s Next for Calvin Start-Ups and College Cupcakes?

As Kwik and other leaders of Calvin Start-Ups near graduation, they are focusing on building up new leaders for the organization. Their goal is to support more students, just like they supported Gasaway.

The group also started a podcast, Beyond Ethical. Here, they interview entrepreneurs about their journeys and investigate what it means to be “redemptive entrepreneurs.”  

“We talk about what it means to start a business—not just for profit but also for purpose. What makes a business ethical? How do we push the boundaries of that? Those questions are really important to ask,” said Kwik.

As a recent graduate and business owner, Gasaway is very appreciative of her time at Calvin.

“I don’t think I would have the same entrepreneurial mindset and business understanding if I hadn’t come to Calvin,” said Gasaway. “The classes combined with the liberal arts education, really motivated me to question things and to look at everything more broadly.”

Recently, Gasaway has expanded her delivery to include Hope College. She also dreams of one day opening a coffee and cupcake food truck. Thanks to Calvin Start-Ups, she has the business foundation she needs to make this dream a reality.    

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