Mom and the entrepreneur

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Let’s say your child comes up with a great idea for a business and it takes off.

Now, besides school and the daily rigors of child rearing, you’re running a business with a youngster who’s become the face of the company. How do you make it all work?

That’s what happened to Patricia Crawford, a Naples single mom and entrepreneur who owns an interior-design company called Bay 170 in the tony Venetian Village shopping center.

Her daughter, 12-year-old Lauren, created a microwavable dessert called Notta Cupcake that is now being shelved in all 18 Whole Foods supermarkets around Florida.

Like many ideas, Notta Cupcake was born in the Crawford kitchen when Lauren was 9 years old. They mixed some organic, gluten-free cake ingredients in a cup and cooked it in the microwave. The name comes from the fact that it’s not a cupcake; it’s a cake in a cup.

Lauren then had the idea that this could be a little business, so Patricia Crawford decided to find out if the two of them could rent space for a booth at the local farmers market for a month. “Instead of one month, we stayed the whole season,” says Crawford.

Crawford says her daughter was thrilled with the entrepreneurial venture. “She had a ball, she met all the vendors,” Crawford chuckles. At one point, Lauren had a bet going with the lobster vendor to see who could get the most sales.

But it wasn’t easy. On Thursday nights, mother and daughter assembled and packaged the ingredients at a commercial kitchen, and together they would load their car on Friday nights. They were off to the farmers market at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday until it closed at 1 p.m. The car was so full of product that Lauren had to sit on the boxes. Together they would sell 500 instant cakes in a cup at $15 to $18 each.

“There are many times I wanted to quit,” says Crawford, who also runs a successful interior-design firm by day. “I would ask her from time to time: ‘Do you still want to do this?’” Crawford says. Her daughter would reply: “Mom, this is our business and I want to be involved.”

Crawford says she and Lauren have managed to keep the business and school separate. Lauren that school and school-related activities always come first. “She doesn’t want to mix it,” Crawford says.
There was a financial incentive, of course. Lauren made $20 each day of the farmers market. Her mom docked her $5 when she refused to help load the boxes one Friday night, but that only happened once.
Besides the Notta Cupcake business, Lauren maintains a full schedule of homework and sports. But the experience of the business is going to help Lauren, Crawford says. “It’s going to look great on her college application, and it’ll give her the confidence to start a business on her own,” she says.
The business took a more serious turn when the commercial kitchen the Crawfords were using closed and they had to find a manufacturer to mix the ingredients. When they approached Whole Foods about stocking the healthy dessert, the chain agreed to order “thousands” for all its stores in Florida. One of the key selling points is Lauren herself, the photogenic outgoing 12-year-old CEO.
Crawford is reluctant to share specific details of her operation for competitive reasons, but she says it took months to find a manufacturer who was willing to mix her ingredients in small batches. Most of the commercial mixers would only agree to mix what would have filled 25,000 cups at a minimum.
While Crawford says all the gluten-free ingredients are U.S.-made, she had to import the ceramic cups because the least expensive ones in the U.S. cost $5 each. “We couldn’t find one in the U.S.,” she says.

Crawford says once the ingredients are mixed, they’re shipped to a packaging and distribution company she found in Tampa. That relieves her and Lauren of the most labor-intensive part of the operation.

Crawford isn’t worried about her daughter’s growing fame, but she’s careful not to reveal too many details, such as the name of her school. “She’s never alone, and I go everywhere with her,” says Crawford, who remembers riding the train to Pittsburgh alone at Lauren’s age. “You can’t be afraid of life,” she says.

Crawford says she hasn’t made an accounting of how much she has spent on the business, but she says the trademark alone cost $10,000 to establish. Lauren is too young to own the business and doesn’t earn a salary, so her mom owns it fully now.

When she turns 18, Lauren will own 49% of Notta Cupcake until her mother determines she can make good decisions on her own, at which time she will give her the remaining 51%. So far, Lauren has the entrepreneurial spirit. “It’s in her DNA,” says Crawford.