MAPLEWOOD, NJ — For most 12-year-olds, life’s biggest accomplishments may include getting homework done on time or passing a major test. But Maplewood’s Sadie Munoz is no ordinary 12-year-old. In the fifth grade last year Sadie launched what she now calls “Pinata Cupcakes,” a business selling filled cupcakes that she bakes herself. And on March 29, while participating in the advanced-level Young Entrepreneurs Academy, she was awarded the runner-up prize from a panel of investors after presenting her business plan at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway.
With that achievement, the investors provided Sadie with $590 to use for her business, which was actually $210 more than she had sought. She said those funds will go a long way toward paying for her LLC establishment, insurance and logo, among other expenses. Above all though, the young businesswoman said the award was a huge confidence booster.
“I was feeling really good about myself because I don’t really like speaking to big groups of people,” Sadie told the News-Record in an April 6 phone interview. “It was definitely a challenge practicing and doing it, as well. So when I heard I got runner-up as the youngest person in the program this year, I was feeling really good. It’s always nice to have something like that on your resume.”
Not too many adolescents can boast having resume-worthy distinctions. Not too many can claim to know what a business plan is either, which is why Sadie is grateful for the YEA! program’s guidance. The South Orange Middle School sixth-grader said she was able to learn all about putting together a plan covering everything from her target audience to prices to expenses. She was also able to experience the effort that goes into making a plan as she had to research numbers, such as how much it costs her to purchase supplies and how many potential customers are in the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
In the end it was all worthwhile, as Sadie said she learned more about her business than ever before. She even won the prize for having the best business plan in her class.
But it has not always been so easy for Sadie in the YEA! program. Things got off to a disheartening start when her initial pitch for her cupcake business — which originally focused on elaborately designed cupcakes — was rejected by the other participants, whose approval was required to pursue an idea. Yet she refused to give up, instead coming up with ways to retool her concept so that it would be acceptable to the rest of the group.
Sadie said she first came up with making gluten-free cupcakes and other allergy-friendly varieties, but realized she was not passionate enough about the premise to base her whole business on it. Then it dawned on her — she could produce an entire line of filled cupcakes similar to the cookie dough stuffed variety she was already selling. So she baked some samples and brought them to the next YEA! session, where they were gleefully gobbled up by her fellow students. Her classmates were sold after she pitched her new idea, and she was given the go-ahead to work on her filled cupcake business for the program.
The fact that Sadie was unable to pursue her original idea demonstrates just how tough the YEA! program is, especially for business novices. Instructor Paul Hahn told the News-Record that middle school and high school students chosen through YEA!’s highly selective interview process are held to a high standard, completing 100 to 200 hours of homework, in addition to three-hour classes, during the course of the program. Hahn said the students are also expected to meet all deadlines or else face consequences. No excuses are accepted.
And if YEA! participants encounter a problem with their projects, Hahn said he does not tell them how to fix it.
“Instead of answering like a parent or a teacher, my answer is ‘I don’t care. How are you going to handle it? You tell me. It’s not my problem, it’s your problem,’” Hahn said in an April 6 phone interview. “It’s not that I don’t care, because I do. But my job is not to do it for them. It’s to teach them how to be grown-ups by running a business.”
Participants indeed do learn a lot about running a business from the ground up through the YEA! program, which covers everything from dressing professionally to selling products, figuring out profit margins and designing a logo. In addition to Hahn, who runs a technology-training firm, the students also are taught by a number of mentors willing to lend their business expertise. They then get a chance to demonstrate what they have learned before the investors panel, which consists of several local business professionals who apportion a pool of $4,000 to $5,000 of their own resources to the young entrepreneurs based on their presentations.
Hahn said Sadie gave a very good presentation to the panel, pointing out that the investors must have thought she was a good business opportunity if they were willing to overfund her. The instructor added that she has been equally impressive throughout the program, saying her commitment to customer service and devotion to building her business is particularly exemplary. Overall, he said, Sadie has been one of the best students he has ever taught.
“Sadie’s an exceptional young girl amongst exceptional young people,” Hahn said. “She’s thoughtful, well-organized, very focused. And as she becomes an adult and matures, I don’t see any real limits to anything that she wants to do.”
That is high praise considering Sadie’s relative inexperience in business. The SOMS student said she started Pinata Cupcakes last year after being inspired by YouTube baking videos. After making her first sales through the Clinton Elementary School Coffee Bean, the staff cafe, she said she has gone on to take orders for events including a bat mitzvah and the recent SOMS play. In total, she estimated that she has filled 10 to 15 orders so far — without ever going into debt.
She has done all this by herself, according to Sadie’s mother Alanna Kaplan Munoz. Though Munoz is always willing to provide guidance when needed, she said her daughter always makes her own business decisions and handles all baking. And she does so all while balancing school and soccer, she said.
Munoz said she is “extremely proud” of all that Sadie has accomplished with Pinata Cupcakes, especially considering that the skills she has developed through her experiences will surely help her no matter what she decides to pursue later in life. This was proven by the results of the investors panel, which exceeded even Munoz’s expectations. She said the investors seemed to be looking for mass marketable businesses that could expand through factory production, so prizes were far from a certainty. To get the runner-up award knowing that was thrilling, she said.
“I always say that Sadie’s a lot like her cupcakes — she’s full of surprises,” Munoz told the News-Record in an April 6 phone interview.
Jennifer Latimer is also happy to see Sadie doing so well, though she could see that Sadie was on the path to success even in the fifth grade. Latimer, a Clinton School librarian who helped the young entrepreneur get her cupcakes into the Coffee Bean, said Sadie was a highly creative and confident student who went above and beyond by volunteering to help students with reading and working as an assistant librarian. Even then she was a leader, the librarian said, adding that she knows Sadie has the tools to achieve greatness in the future.
“There are just some people in your life who seem to have that spark of wisdom,” Latimer told the News-Record in an April 6 phone interview, describing Sadie as one such individual. “She has all the qualities that I think a good businesswoman would need: patience and creativity and (a drive) to be successful. She also seems to have a very strong family that supports her, which is absolutely essential. And I hope to always be a role model for her as well so she knows I’m always here if she ever needed me.”
Latimer has certainly become one of her former student’s best customers, having tried almost all her offerings. She said she recently brought an order of Sadie’s “delicious” chocolate brownie cupcakes to a Valentine’s Day party and heard raves from the other attendees. Her son has even insisted on having Sadie’s cupcakes at his upcoming confirmation party, so she said she will place another order soon.
In addition to continuing to fill orders like Latimer’s, Sadie said she is readying for the upcoming YEA! trade show, which will be another opportunity to gain exposure for Pinata Cupcakes. To that same end, she advertised in the SOMS play program and will host a cupcake-creation contest.
As for the future, Sadie said she wants to earn a business degree in college before attending culinary school with the goal of eventually opening her own bakery. For now though, she simply hopes more people will try her cupcakes. They will not be disappointed, she said.
“I definitely think that they’re tasty, they’re unique and they make any event special,” Sadie said.
For more information on Pinata Cupcakes, which currently offers six flavors in addition to the option of ordering customized creations to match themed parties, visit https://thebrainybaker.wixsite.com/pinatacupcakes. To learn more about the Greater Westfield area branch of the YEA! program, visit http://yeawestfield.com.