“Success” is a word that has countless meanings and exerts an individualized emotive. More often than not, success in the business world is part of the machismo culture. However, when a woman steps into that world, she defies expectation, overcomes obstacles, and shatters the patriarchy.
For a woman, the struggles of creating her own business may seem amplified and tiresome, inducing a sense of hopelessness. ink.mdc created this blog series, “Diary of a Startup Goddess”, because just one story can uplift any woman from such disillusionment. We’ve invited businesswomen, who have redefined entrepreneurship, to tell their story because we want to encourage other women to pursue their passions. Join us each month for one of these incredible stories!
Laura Pekarik shares her valiant journey of how she founded Cupcakes for Courage and furthered her philanthropy toward cancer research.
Aanchal Bhattacharya (AB): What led you to start your business, Cupcakes for Courage?
Laura Pekarik (LP): When my sister was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010, I took a leave of absence from my job to be with her during that difficult time. To keep our mind off of the reality and struggle, we dreamed up cupcake flavors together, and I would bake them and bring them to the hospital for tasting. We always loved to bake as kids; we shared this passion. A benefit was held in her honor to help pay for medical expenses, so I baked 250 cupcakes for this event, and they were a huge hit! It got me thinking this could be something real, to do as my career. Once Kathryn was done with her treatments, which lasted about a year, she was getting back to her life, and I had to decide what was next for me. After much deliberation, I decided to buy a cupcake truck with what was left of my college savings, and things rolled on from there.
My sister’s battle with cancer made me think about what was important to me. Life is short but sweet, and what I want to do with this precious time kick started that sense of passion.
AB: Did you experience fear or deal with anxiety when starting your business?
LP: I was 25 when I bought the cupcake truck, so I was more excited than fearful. My logic behind it all was, "What's the worst that can happen?" It could flop in the first year, and then I would close the business, go back to school, and start again. I discussed it heavily with my mom and grandma, which made me feel like I had the support I needed in case I would fail.
AB: Did you have any additional forms of support when you began your business venture?
LP: I had emotional support from my family, but financially I used my college savings and bootstrapped (according to Oxford dictionary/languages "bootstrap" means getting oneself into or out of a situation using existing resources) my business the whole way through.
AB: What did this support signify for you?
LP: Knowing that my family was on my side if anything bad should happen was an amazing sense of stability in an unstable venture. My mom even drove the truck for me in the early days while I navigated the streets of Chicago with a paper map (cell service didn't work well downtown!) She would sit with me the whole day while we sought out good locations to park the truck, winning some and losing some. But the losses didn't seem so bad when she was there by my side. And the wins were especially joyful.
AB: Is there anything you would change or do differently when initially starting your business?
LP: I wouldn't change anything. My journey is unique, and I am satisfied with where it led. Perhaps, if I had to say one thing, I would get a small business loan if possible. Bootstrapping my business was especially difficult. I had to do everything . . . bake, drive the truck, do maintenance, purchase items, marketing, accounting. If I had a loan I would have felt more comfortable to hire more help. I had to sacrifice my social life and missed a lot of family events because of my commitment to my business.
AB: The first three years of any startup can depict the “break it or make it” phase. What did the first three years look like for Cupcakes for Courage?
LP: A roller coaster ride! I bought a cupcake truck, I opened my first location, and I had my son within the first three years.
AB: How important is networking for budding entrepreneurs? Did you already have experience in networking? Are there any tools or tips that are useful for networking?
LP: I did not intentionally network as I built my business. I had the support of my family, a few wonderful mentors, and focused on developing relationships with my customers and community. About three years ago I did join an entrepreneur group that has helped a great deal.
AB: Do you believe in work-life balance, and if so, what does that look like for you?
LP: I believe in it, but achieving it the first few years was nearly impossible as I bootstrapped. It's been nine years, and I don't think I achieved a balance until just a couple years ago. Working seven days a week, 8-12 hours per day was normal. Now I can finally take the weekends when I have my son to just be home and spend time with him. Or take a personal day to tend to my mental health and chores around the house.
AB: What advice would you give all dreamers and budding entrepreneurs out there who are considering starting a business of their own?
LP: Make sure that it is something that brings you joy and value to your life.
AB: It feels like 2020 is the year where there’s a significant shift in ideologies. There’s a need to understand and embrace inclusivity of all sexualities, races, genders, and anyone who has felt marginalized in any way. What words of wisdom do you have for entrepreneurs trying to create or start something of their own but have been systematically marginalized by our society?
LP: The things we worry about most in life will sort themselves out on their own, so don't worry about them. These words of wisdom, imparted by my grandmother, is what I hold on to when I am faced with adversity.
In my experience, there were always people who spoke down to me and tried to make me feel small. I assume the superhero pose to give me strength and try to move past it. One must remember that it is okay to cry, vent, and rant about things that have gone wrong. Express yourself with people who believe in you and support you. I promise that those feelings of uncertainty and desolation will pass! When you feel like you've hit the bottom, there's only one direction, and that is up. You're going to experience bad days. But when you look back at where you've been, you're only going to regret the things you didn't do, not the ones that you did do.
AB: How can one spread awareness regarding cancer research and which organization(s) can one turn to if they want to help out?
LP: I have worked with many communities and organizations that have some type of walk or event to spread awareness. These events are great ways to bring friends and communities together to share stories and support each other.
AB: How can our society create an extensive support system (for all female entrepreneurs, content creators, and business owners) where inclusivity and representation are valued?
LP: In my organization, we are inclusive and value work ethic, team work, and kindness above anything else. We have a culture of team work that spans across departments and locations. We get what we give, and if we practice this as a company it can only be shared throughout the rest of the individual’s days after they leave here, which in turn will be spread to others that we touch.
AB: After achieving such great heights, are there any more dreams that you are chasing?
LP: I have a beautiful son whom I adore, and he's one of the reasons I didn't give up when there were numerous days that I wanted to. He has a wonderful dad, who is my best friend. But finding my 'other half', someone to share my life with and theirs with me in that special way, expand our family with another child or two . . . I would like to see that happen. I can't say that I am chasing that dream though, just keeping an open mind and heart to see where my journey leads me.
Laura Pekarik has owned and operated Cupcakes for Courage since its creation in May 2011. The business started as a cupcake food truck operating in and around Chicago and has since expanded to two food trucks and two brick-and-mortar stores. The inspiration for her business was her sister Kathryn’s battle with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which she fought and won. Laura’s success story with Cupcakes for Courage is an inspiration to all first-time entrepreneurs. After Kathryn went into remission and gradually got her life back on track, it was then that Laura reimagined what she wanted to do for work; and that led to taking a chance on being a baker, which brought her joy. During the time, the food truck scene in Chicago was just budding, and the first handful of food trucks were on the streets. This is the moment when Laura used her college savings and bought what is now her business’ food truck. The food truck was a great way for Laura to determine if she had what it took to be a business owner.
With passion, determination, and zest for life, Laura has paved a successful career path for herself. Cupcakes for Courage taught her how to be strong, resilient, and patient; and she hopes for the continued success of her business that all started from an inspiring story and a heartening dream.
You can follow Cupcakes for Courage at:
You can learn more about Cupcakes for Courage and Laura’s journey at https://courageousbakery.com
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Aanchal Bhattacharya is ink.’s content contributor and staff writer. Aanchal holds a first-class joint honors degree in history and religious studies from McGill University. She is also a Wasserman Scholar and has a master’s degree in cinema studies from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. From indulging in creative writing to directing short films, Aanchal’s passion has driven her to artistically express herself in this ever-changing world. She has inspiration flowing through her veins.
No matter how busy life gets, Aanchal always makes time for watching movies/television shows, listening to awesome music, and engaging in inspiring “food for thought” discussions with family and friends.