Technology has made becoming a student entrepreneur more feasible due to higher connectivity and low startup costs. Today’s spotlight is focused on a company that took a creative (and tasty) approach to reducing waste through months of manufacturing trial and error. I sat down with Lyn Chen, one of three co-founders of Candy Cutlery, to get insight into her path as a student entrepreneur and learn about Candy Cutlery’s journey to becoming a fast-growing and award winning startup! Lyn is an Economics student at Queen’s University (and also a Team enLIGHT alumni!).
What is Candy Cutlery?
Candy Cutlery specializes in edible utensils, keeping sustainability, fun, and plastic waste reduction at the core of their mission. Candy Cutlery sells edible, flavoured spoons to small businesses and at events. Lyn spoke about the inspiration behind the idea for the company: “I was inspired by my mother, who raised me to be environmentally-conscious. One day, I noticed her washing a plastic spoon to reuse it in the kitchen and ever since then I became obsessed with the problem, and the opportunity to reduce plastic waste! It surprised me that over 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown out each year.”.
Who is Candy Cutlery?
Founded by three students, Candy Cutlery was brought to market by a designer, food scientist, and business analyst. Since starting, Lyn, Daniel, and Liyan have brought on two supporting team members. While all students, the team has developed a strong community of mentors with extensive industry experience. Lyn’s advice on building relationships with potential mentors: “Go to events to meet inspiring people or reach out to people that already inspire you to build a rapport, even if you’re not in entrepreneurship. Always keep them in the loop and say thank you. Always offer to give back, even if you don’t receive anything in return (but trust me, kindness always comes back to you!).”
Candy Cutlery isn’t your typical app, website, or tech-based student startup. The company had higher initial costs than others you may find. This can be seen as a huge barrier for students wanting to enter a business that requires manufacturing products. Tuition, rent, food, and a social life all get in the way of personal financing, so how did the co-founders manage to fund it?
“It was 100% bootstrapped through grants and competitions to begin with (#studentlife). In fact, the first prize I ever received for CC was a gift card to Milestones. We actually still use that Milestones gift card for food whenever we go there!”
Lyn is a big fan of competitions, not only because of the “free money”, but also because of the feedback and exposure you can get through them. However, she warns that there’s a fine balance between only going to competitions and not spending enough time working on actually building out the business. The team has been offered VC/Angel funding, but are continuing to self-fund at the moment.
Aside from funding, Lyn’s three biggest challenges she had to overcome were time commitment, mental health, and uncertainty. Lyn has had to sacrifice a lot in many areas of her personal, professional, and educational life. Whether it be rarely going out with friends, turning down prestigious internship opportunities, or resigning from her favourite clubs at Queen’s, she always prioritized her startup goals. Her best advice for managing her time: “My priorities are my business, my mental/physical health and my loved ones. I try to not compromise on the three, but to make them my focus when I organize my time. I say no to opportunities that compromise these and I try my best to work smarter, not simply harder. Having a team helps with this.”
With all these sacrifices and the pressure to perform well in school, why not just wait until after graduating to pursue a venture? I asked Lyn what benefits her team got from starting Candy Cutlery while being full-time students, as opposed to waiting until they graduated and had more experience.
“I think I learn so much more than I do in school and I notice the same with my Co-Founders. In fact, Daniel actually switched into computer science from business management after joining Candy Cutlery because he found so much more value from learning while we grow. We also meet fantastic people and experience new things at a rapid pace. How many times in your life can you say that you have direct contacts to the CEO of a multimillion dollar company or took a trip to Amsterdam with your startup team at 18 years old?
I think we talk a lot about waiting for the right opportunity. My team and I really believe that the secret to getting ahead is actually getting started. Instead of waiting for someday, start today, whether it’s entrepreneurship or something else! Experience things now, fail fast, refine your skills and never give up.”
Entrepreneurship is not easy, and often being a student entrepreneur is even harder. While it’s definitely not like the movies, the rewards are life changing if you are up for the challenge. Lyn is an active mentor to many students and student founders and is always open to talking to anyone looking for direct advice. She ended the interview with a quote by Phil Knight, founder of Nike: “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”
Thank you Lyn for taking the time to chat with me, I’m excited to see where Candy Cutlery will go in the future. Best of luck to the Candy Cutlery team!
Connect with Lyn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lynchen/
Check out Candy Cutlery: https://www.candycutlery.com/