Bouquet of Opportunity

JOHNSTOWN – It was a sweet deal for Monica Sweeney.

After months of work preparing a business plan for her cupcake bouquets to be marketed under the name Bouqcakes, she struck an agreement with an investors panel last month not only for $400 in seed money, but also a chance to win scholarship funding at a young entrepreneurs competition in Rochester later this month.

The Johnstown High School senior said she began the school year with several study halls and went on a hunt for a class that sounded interesting. That’s when she enrolled in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy – called YEA! – course.

“It was kind of out of the blue really,” Sweeney said Friday. She said she’s always had an interest in business, wanting to pursue a marketing career.

It was that and her family tradition of baking with her mother and grandmother that lead her to her business idea.

“I would always go to my grandmother’s house every single weekend and we’d make something every time we went whether it was cookies, cakes or pies. We always made something different,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said she knew immediately she wanted to do something with cupcakes. She’d seen Edible Arrangement’s fruit and chocolate bouquets, but never one that featured cupcakes.

She said her family has been very supportive, and her brother helped her come up with the name Bouqcakes.

Her mother Diane said the business choice was a perfect fit for her.

“She always like baking,” Diane Sweeney said. “I know sometimes we’d do it together and she’d bake with her grandmother. When she said she was going to take this class, I thought it would be great for her.”

The Johnstown School District, when it began offering YEA! in the 2010-11 school year, was one 16 schools state-wide to participate in the program.

The program is administered as a credit-bearing elective through the high school business department, and it partners with the local business community.

The class is open to students in grades 9-12 and takes them through the steps of starting and running a real company, according to the district’s website. Through the program, launched in 2004 by the University of Rochester, students learn to create a business plan and prototype, participate at a business expo and formulate a pitch to an investor panel. Students also learn about filing “Doing Business As” paperwork and getting other legal documents in line.

Students also have access to business speakers throughout the course, and they attend a business field trip.

This year’s investor panel took place March 27.

Investors included the following companies: Mindex Technologies, creator of Schooltool, which the district uses for its student management system, represented by Warren Street Elementary Principal Scott Ziomek; Townsend Leather represented by company President Jared Eckler; Euphrates, represented by Lisa Miner; and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium represented by Sandra Maceyka.

The other student businesses pitched at the panel included Trevor’s Tacos by Jordan Beekman, Matthew Gifford and Cody Hutchins; King of Detailing by Stephen Leduc; Incendium by Maria Licciardi, DP Chocolates by David Freese and Patrick Morrison; and ADK Archery by Joseph Nellis.

The program was launched in Johnstown after District Director of Curriculum, Testing & Personnel Patricia Kilburn made a presentation at an August 2010 Board of Education meeting.

“What I really enjoy about the program is that it’s student centered,” Kilburn said Friday. “In the format, the business idea blooms and the student is learning all the different skills it takes to start a business. It’s all being done from their interest base. They believe in it, and they own it.”

Kilburn said all of the students’ presentations through the past few years have been unique and said Sweeney’s cupcake bouquets are “innovative.”

“It’s amazing what she’s done,” Kilburn said.

Sweeney’s business isn’t up and running yet, but she hopes to start producing in the summer.

She said she’s already received interest.

School office employees said they were interested in purchasing them for Secretary Day, and another buyer said he wanted to purchase 12 to 15 bouquets for a luncheon.

“I haven’t done it yet, but they told me when the business gets up and running they’d be interested in buying them for those events,” Sweeney said.

She said she’ll start with basic flavors like vanilla and chocolate, but other flavors can be made to order.

Sweeney said she’ll be competing against 40 other young entrepreneurs when she pitches her idea to the regional panel in Rochester.

Recounting her experience pitching the idea locally, she said as someone with a shy disposition, it was nerve-racking.

“I ended up being the last person to go, and I was really nervous. I don’t like speaking in front of people. I’m really shy and I went into it thinking I wasn’t going to win, but just go for it,” Sweeney said.

She said she stumbled over some of the presentation but recovered with humor.

“They said, ‘you played that off so good,’ but I didn’t think I did that good,” Sweeney said.

But the investors did.

The $400 seed money will go into an account at school, she said. When she wants to purchase something for her business she can contact her teacher.

She said she’ll be giving basically the same presentation in Rochester and will be practicing so “it comes more natural to me.”

Diane Sweeney said she thought all the students were impressive.

“They all did wonderfully,” she said. “When they called [Monica’s] name [to say she won] I just looked over at her father and I said, ‘Did they just call her name?’ I was totally shocked. I’m very happy and proud of her. This is a great opportunity for her.”

Sweeney said after high school her plan is to study business at college to further her education on how to run her new business.

News Editor Amanda May Metzger can be reached at