Meet Quiyanni Smith, age 19, teen entrepreneur and founder of Cakies Custom Creationz & Cakies Cares youth mentoring program
Quiyanni is currently a student at Miami University, and a former participant in the Veale Youth Entrepreneurship Forum through her high school, Beaumont School. In 2014, she founded Cakies Custom Creationz, a home bakery focusing on freshly baked desserts from scratch. A strong force for social justice, Quiyanni employs a business model to mentor urban inner city kids and help them enhance their professional skills.
How did you become an entrepreneur and what are the highlights of your journey so far?
Quiyanni: Growing up, I always was more mature than my friends. When they wanted to play with toys or go to the park, I was thinking about ways to sell cookies or bags of candy to make a profit! In 7th and 8th grade, I attended Entrepreneurship Preparatory School, where entrepreneurial thinking was embedded into every aspect of our curriculum. I then went to Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights, where I competed in the Beaumont Business Cup, and became President of the Entrepreneur Club. It was in April 2014, during my sophomore year, that I founded what would eventually become Cakies Custom Creationz.
At first, I chose entrepreneurship because I thought it was fun and I was too young to work a real job. But soon I realized I was filling a real need, and that there was true demand for my products. I chose non-profit status because I’ve seen how hard it is for minorities in disadvantaged situations to be successful and live quality lives. I believe that by working to empower and support minorities, we can overcome the obstacles that have traditionally limited our families and our future.
What made you choose gourmet cookies, cakes and cupcakes as your product to develop and market?
Quiyanni: I first founded Cakies with two Beaumont peers and a cousin. We chose baking because it was very fun for all of us, and our peers enjoyed them. It wasn’t long before we began catering for larger events and companies, and business was flourishing. However, as time went on, my partners and I realized we had very different visions for the company, so we parted ways. As sole operator, I began to see a different value in my business. My community didn’t have a quality bakery with reasonable prices that also could deliver and cater for large events. I was able to fill an important need and give back to my community.
What was the impetus behind Cakies Cares and the mentoring program?
Quiyanni: I was driving to school one snowy morning and saw a young boy walking alone to school with his supplies in a ripped grocery bag. I began to think what could I do to help him and others like him to have what they need to be comfortable and succeed in school. In 2016, I created Cakes Cares, a mentoring program for urban inner city youth. I use baking to connect with the kids and teach them entrepreneurship. Even the males in my program feel it has been very effective in teaching business management, math, and communication skills. Because I am passionate about children and making a difference, it is now embedded in our culture and mission.
In August of 2017 I started the 1st annual Cakies Back to School Drive and with the help of many wonderful donors, gave away 100 book bags, as well as school supplies, clothes, shoes, and learning games to various children and teens in Cleveland.
What would you say are the most important steps in creating a successful business?
Quiyanni: It’s really important to conduct research in your business area; to learn the necessary business language in order to communicate with investors and supporters; and to know your customers. These steps can be are easy to overlook in the excitement of creating a new business venture, but without them it will be hard to maintain a successful business.
Who has influenced your business life most so far?
Quiyanni: Definitely my family! They have supported all of my ideas, both financially and by attending my events. My father has always owned his own business and has a knack for knowing what people need. My uncle has his own very successful construction business, and my grandfather has been a very important public figure in the Fairfax community building monster trucks and robots
Do you think people are born entrepreneurs or that entrepreneurship can be learned?
Quiyanni: I do believe that entrepreneurship can be learned, but successful entrepreneurship comes from experience. I feel I was born to be an entrepreneur because of my culture and history. For me, entrepreneurship offered a chance to expand opportunities that may not otherwise have been available. If you’re born into a less advantaged situation, your struggle for success is that much more intense.
How do you manage school and work?
Quiyanni: Balancing school and work and all the responsibilities can be really challenging! However as a young black girl, it’s vital that I do so in order make a change, get recognized, and impact my community. I do everything I can to make sure that my family is well off, and that I am building a great foundation for my future family.