Kathy Wolper has some advice for fellow-small business owners: take full advantage of every business-building opportunity.
But, for Wolper, as with many small business owners, opportunity isn’t always easily recognized or easily tapped. So, when opportunity seems out of reach, Wolper simply creates her own. And, according to Wolper — with the right mix of research, passion, and tenacity — other small business owners can do the same.
Wolper founded her successful cooking instruction and specialty baking business — Kathy’s Just Desserts/Cooking Wizards — when her then-employer’s bankruptcy left her unemployed. Wolper turned that unemployment into to opportunity when she used her technical training and elementary education experience to found a business based on her life-long passion: baking. And, when Wolper faced the challenge of financing her firm’s growth, she, once again, created her own opportunity—this time, with the help of the SBA.
Do What You Love
In 2001, Kathy Wolper was an experienced education professional, a passionate baking hobbyist, and she was unemployed. Wolper spent her early career as an elementary school teacher and parlayed that experience to become a technical trainer. All the while, she spent her free time baking elaborate confections for family and friends. Wolper had found outlets for her skills and passions and was busy balancing the demands of both, when the events of September 11, 2001, brought life as she knew it to sudden a halt.
Wolper lived and worked in eastern Pennsylvania, far from the New York City and Washington, D.C. areas so economically hard-hit by the terrorist attacks. But the overall economic lag that followed the attacks left Wolper’s employer in bankruptcy, and left Wolper to look for her own “next chapter.”
Wolper had always dreamed of starting her own baking business, but, before September 11, life’s track had led Wolper in another direction. But, now, the stage was set for a new start for Wolper. Wolper’s unemployment benefits included a Women’s Opportunity Resource program about how to start a business, and Wolper seized the chance to learn the practical side of making her dream of business ownership a reality.
Just one month after September 11, 2001 turned her life upside down, Wolper opened Kathy’s Just Desserts/Kitchen Wizards for business. The “Kathy’s Just Desserts” arm of the business offered a variety of baked goods, ranging from cookie trays to elaborate wedding cakes, all baked in her at-home kitchen (which was fully certified by the Department of Agriculture). The “Kitchen Wizards” part of the business taught students of all ages how to cook through in-school programs, summertime cooking camps, scout workshops, and adult “Supper Club” classes.
Wolper was finally doing what she loved.
Taking the Next Step with the SBA
By 2008, Wolper’s business was on track to expand. Seven years in business had proven that there was a strong market for her business’ services. Now, Wolper wanted to expand her business’ geographic footprint to capture even more of that market. Wolper had funded the business’ start-up and early development herself; Wolper’s home-based business model allowed the business to flourish in her East Norriton, Penn., hometown without a large overhead. But, now, Wolper had her sights set on expansion within her own community and across the country. She knew that she would need to hire a business development team, expand her marketing efforts, and invest in legal counsel to guide growth, but Wolper didn’t know how she would finance all of those expenses. Expansion on that scale would require outside financing, and conventional bank financing seemed out of reach — the business’ historic cash flow volume, while healthy for a local business like Wolper’s, was not commensurate with the larger scale business she envisioned.
So, once again, Wolper searched for a new opportunity. She researched her options, worked her contacts, and attended a variety of economic development events, forums, and lectures. But, it was not until she attended a 2008 business networking event at Montgomery County Community College that her financing plan began to come into focus. At that event, Wolper learned that SBA’s “Meet the Lenders” lender-borrower matchmaking event could help her find the financing that she needed — fast.
“Meet the Lenders” helps entrepreneurs find financing fast and connect with onsite business counselors for mentorship and technical business education. The event’s “one-stop, speed-dating” format puts potential borrowers in front of a host of active lenders in a single day. “Meet the Lenders” is made up of a series of 15-minute “pitch periods,” during which each entrepreneur presents their financing need to a lender one-on-one before moving to the next lender to present again. Lenders then schedule detailed interviews for a later date with entrepreneurs whose needs may be a match with their lending portfolios. Representatives from SBA’s Resource Partner network (SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Centers) are also on hand at the event offering technical business advice to help entrepreneurs reach their financing goals.
In Fall 2010, Wolper attended an SBA “Meet the Lenders” event in King of Prussia, Penn. She brought with her to the event her business plan and all documentation pertinent to her loan requirements and presented them to a variety of lenders. After a series of post-event meetings with several lenders, Wolper secured an SBA-backed line of credit through Univest Bank and Trust Company.
Wolper’s SBA-backed line of credit allowed her to pursue her business expansion, one step at a time. Today, Kitchen Wizards operates 50 cooking camps in the Philadelphia metro and New Jersey shore areas, along with its successful battery of classes. As Kitchen Wizards continues to grow, Wolper’s next steps include expanding her business’ footprint to include operations in inland southern New Jersey and the Boston area.
Along with that growth, Wolper’s plans include giving back to the community; her business will donate a portion of proceeds from any kids' program during the calendar year 2012 to the Mommy's Light Lives On Fund, a charity founded to help bereaved children through the grief process following the death of their mothers.