Entrepreneurs speak at Year of the Innovator event

Katherine Middleton, Reporter

Creativity, diversity, and innovation are the key ingredients needed to be successful – at least according to Drew Kahn, moderator at the opening celebration for SUNY Buffalo State’s Year of the Innovator.

From 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, students, faculty, and visitors gathered at Rockwell Hall to attend the event, a panel featuring five entrepreneurs.

To offer some insight into creating a business, Jabril Shareef, Charlotte Walker, John Harris, Raven Owusu and Emily Stewart spoke about their successes and what they had to do to get where they are today.

Emily Stewart is the co-owner of BreadHive, a new worker co-operative bakery on Baynes Street in Buffalo.  BreadHive opened in April and already you can find their bread in restaurants and deli’s all over Buffalo.  Stewart’s company stands apart not only because it’s a co-operative, a business whose focus is on it’s benefits to consumers, but also because she and her co-owners aim to change the world of bread making.

“We’re trying to shift the way bread is made in this town so that people start making that a value and priority in their own diets,” she said.

Stewart’s bread is fermented for three days and naturally leavened, so ingredients like gluten won’t be as present in the bread and the taste is better.

For Charlotte Walker, cloud-based data management platform Doolli is the third business she’s been involved with. Her CEO, Scott Baxter, is a Buffalo State alum, and together they’ve taken advantage of the possibilities of the Internet. At the beginning of their partnership, everyone thought that the Internet wasn’t something that was going to take off the way it did, but now they’re reaping the benefits.

“Being an innovator is having the ability to think outside of the box,” Walker said. “If you’re in a conversation and you feel like an alien, you’re an innovator.”

Jabril Shareef of Living Green Insulation, a construction company based in Buffalo, made it a point to recognize God as the key to his success.

“I know that there’s a much much greater power than myself,” he said. “Mankind is God’s highest form of creation. What better way of giving back than serving His highest form of creation?”

Raven Owusu graduated from Buffalo State earlier this year and she’s already making waves in the business world. Two years ago, Owusu began making cupcakes as a hobby and now she’s president of her own business, Café Cupcakes. Through her studies as a hospitality administration major at Buffalo State, she learned how to deal with people.

As a former Spot Coffee employee she used to bring in cupcakes for her co-workers to taste. Once the regional manager caught wind of it, her business took off. Now, her cupcakes can be found at various Spot Coffee locations in Buffalo and Rochester.

“If you asked me three years ago what I’d be doing now, I thought I’d still be in pharmacy school hating my life,” she said. “But now I’m sharing my story and the most important thing I’ve learned is being open.”

Owusu spoke up about how she wound up baking. Talking to friends and family led her on this path and continues to shape her business: she recently added vegan cupcakes to her menu because her vegan friends were complaining that they couldn’t eat her cupcakes, and as a result she experienced a peak in profits.

Owusu’s story was especially inspiring to attendee Claude Williams, a business administration major from Brooklyn. Williams attended the event for class, but wound up learning more than he expected.

“She found a hobby and made it into a career,” he said. “I want to open my own business one day but I’m not sure what yet. I realized that even the smallest things can be made into a business.”

John Harris, another Buffalo State alum, was named one of the top five jewelers in the United States. Because of this and other achievements, Harris was able to get his own TV show.

His show, Wild by Design started filming over the weekend, and while the details are being kept under lock and key, he did state that the show will bring him to a specific location every week where he and his team have to complete a challenge involving jewelry.

All of the guests of the evening gave their advice about how to be successful, including always being positive and having the ability to really sell your idea.

“Don’t take the easy path if the hard path means something to you,” said Stewart. “That’ll be the best thing that you do. That was the best decision that I’ve made.”


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