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Nelson, Founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, Shares Entrepreneurial Journey, Advice

Candace Nelson Standing, smiling at the end of a line of seated students

Candace Nelson, founder and pastry chef of Sprinkles Cupcakes, spoke with students Wednesday as part of The Center for Entrepreneurship’s Moench Lecture Series. She walked students through her cupcake journey and offered advice to Belmont’s budding entrepreneurs.

Started in Beverly Hills in 2005, Sprinkles was the world’s first cupcake bakery. At the time, the low-carb Atkins diet was trending, but when Nelson learned that cardiologist/author Dr. Roberts Atkins had not actually invented that diet, she realized something vital: “There is potential brilliance in the mundane that is… right beneath our noses.” She could re-purpose an old idea to better fit her time.

cupcake displayHer idea for cupcakes stemmed from her childhood in Indonesia. Because she could not buy her favorite treats in the United States, she had to learn how to make them herself. After a short career as a financial analyst, Nelson decided to attend pastry school. She quickly realized that the “humble” cupcake featured at children’s’ parties had a similar potential for brilliance. She knew that she could increase the market for cupcakes by appealing to adults, but she said that the cupcake “desperately needed a makeover…to make it more sophisticated.” To battle the Atkins craze, she made her cupcakes with wholesome and fresh ingredients, perfect for dieting adults.

Her business took off within days. Because of her location in Beverly Hills, celebrities lined up to eat her cupcakes, which created even more buzz for her company.

Her advice to students was robust:

  • “Innovation can be as simple as elevation… [but] innovation is like a sugar rush, and it leaves you wanting more.”
  • “To truly commit to something means truly being able to gauge timing…and timing is crucial.”
  • “Customers root for somebody they care about,” because they want to feel a sense of ownership with a business. And they will gladly be your best brand ambassadors, “you just have to give them something to talk about.”
  • Learn to embrace crazy ideas, as long as you are in the right market at the right time.
  • Most importantly, be passionate about your business. “When you have passion, and your employees have passion, that will translate to your customers having passion.”

Since Sprinkle’s conception, Nelson has been featured as a judge for the first 10 seasons of the hit Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, and has appeared on Good Morning America, Today, The Chew, The Talk, Nightline and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her cupcakes have also been featured in O, Vanity Fair, InStyle, People Magazine, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Her debut cookbook, the “Sprinkles Baking Book,” is a New York Times Best Seller, and she recently opened Pizzana, a neapolitan pizzeria in Los Angeles.