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Innovation & Job News

Wharton SBDC helps Nikki Jean the singer become Nikki Jean the baker (at least for now)

Sweet voice, sweet cookies. Nikki Jean is well loved. It's not unusual for her YouTube videos to receive 80,000 hits. She's toured with Lupe Fiasco, and co-written songs with many big names including Bob Dylan and Lamont Dozier. Two years ago, Nikki Jean was signed by Columbia records. And then her album was shelved. Meanwhile, the lovely and talented Nikki Jean's been baking cookies, and she's ready to turn that talent into a business.

She's at the Wharton Small Business Development Center orientation, along with about a dozen entrepreneurs who have assembled to soak up some of this top school's magic. This SBDC is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the US Small Business Administration, and Wharton, with little or no cost to participants. Therese Flaherty, PhD, director of the SBDC, says 70 to 80 percent of people attending the initial gathering will continue with Wharton in some way. "We don't charge but we invest," explains Flaherty, who taught for many years at Harvard Business School. "We'll have one meeting with anyone who has a business plan, but we've got to see some movement to have a second meeting. It could take a year before they come back." Those who commit and take the path through seven prescribed stages have access to Wharton MBA candidates who already work with some of the country's most influential business consulting firms.

Nikki Jean needs a money making opportunity that has nothing to do with the fickle business of selling records. "I come from a family of bakers," says Nikki Jean. "I started baking cookies for friends, and then fans." While on tour, she used a toaster oven to make cookies. When the release date of her shelved album kept getting pushed back, she decided to go for cookie baking full time, and after a quick Google search, she chose Wharton. While working on her business plan to create White Chocolate Raspberry, Oatmeal Rum Raisin and Maple Bacon cookies, she's shopping around for a commercial kitchen space and filling out a large pile of paperwork for the city and state. She's just received news that she's been picked up by a smaller independent record label, so she's going to have to manage a dual recording and baking career.

For Therese Flaherty, the joy lies in seeing grown ups think for themselves. "It's all about giving people a safe place to think and explore their commitments. I love seeing learning." The SBDC is not going to tell Nikki Jean and her assembled colleagues how to make business ideas better; rather, the program offers partnership and plenty of patience.

Source: Nikki Jean, Marie Therese Flaherty PhD, Wharton SBDC
Writer: Sue Spolan
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