From Cheesecake to B-school


Shea Gouldd, photo by Dana Hoff

Shea Gouldd opened a bakery when she was 14 years old. It started in October 2008 with a cheesecake she made for a family friend. By Thanksgiving that year, she had more than 30 orders.

The bakery started small – just her, in the kitchen, making and selling treats. She was motivated in part because she liked to experiment with fancy ingredients and needed a way to pay for them. However, rather than fizzle away with time, as one might think a high school venture would, she started receiving orders from strangers and realized she could take things to another level. She got the right health permits and a suitable kitchen, and Shea’s Bakery has doubled its profits every year since. Now, six years later, it’s still going strong.

Gouldd has been recognized time and again for her business success at such a young age. She was awarded the 2010 Young Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the National Association of Women Business Owners, was named the 2013 Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the National Foundation for Independent Businesses, and was a national finalist in the Guardian Life Insurance Company Girls Going Places Scholarship Program. On top of all the success, her bakery also donates 10% of its profits to charity.

Gouldd isn’t there year-round, however. Shea’s Bakery is run by a team. There are people who bake; people who manage sales; and a new kitchen manager who takes Gouldd’s place when she is away.

She’s leaving again in a couple of weeks to start her sophomore year at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, where she majors in entrepreneurship.

Though she can only bake recreationally in the communal dorm kitchen, she says that her experience running a bakery showed her that business is the right field for her to study and that she can already see how this education is going to help the bakery when she returns. In the meantime, she plans to bake during the summers and says that everything has run beautifully so far.

Here’s her story:

My baking started as a hobby, and it was getting very expensive because I always wanted to try these super fancy things. My mom would always say, ”Why can’t you just buy a box mix?”

I started selling things to make up for the money I was spending on ingredients, and the more I sold, the more people heard about me. To date, we’ve never paid for marketing. In this industry, when someone buys something and they bring it to a party, people will ask where it came from if they like it. That’s how we got our first customers, and it just sort of took off. We hit the ground running, and it’s been an adventure.

When I started it was just me. I was 14 and I was doing it for fun, for people I knew. But then it was just growth and growth and growth. As soon as it started to be an actual business, and I was getting orders from people I didn’t know, we knew that I needed to get an actual kitchen and health permits. Since then, profits have doubled every year and they are still continuing to do that. We’ve gotten more contracts with hotels and vendors, and there’s been a lot of development all around.

When I’m away at school the bakery is run by a team of people, and I brought my mom in to help with some of the administrative stuff. We also have a kitchen manager, Kate, who I trained for a little over a year before I left. Everything runs smoothly, but it’s nice to come back in during the summer and be more involved.

The baking I do at school is very different because I don’t have a kitchen. We have a common kitchen, which I’ve used a couple times to make cookies and things like that, but it’s just for fun. Baking is what helped me realize that business is something that I’m passionate about, though. Through the bakery I realized that the constant change and the challenges are things that I’m interested in, and business school was something I wanted to take on.

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