Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, spoke in Chapel Wednesday evening and encouraged students to take old ideas and make them unique with the help of innovation.
Nelson, who created the very first cupcake bakery in 2005, started a trend that has taken off across the country. Sprinkles has 25 locations around the U.S. — including the 12th South location in Nashville — and other entrepreneurs have followed Nelson’s lead by creating more cupcake bakeries.
To start her presentation, Nelson held up a plain grocery store cupcake with vanilla icing and rainbow sprinkles. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “We’ve eaten this cupcake, we’ve enjoyed this cupcake, but there is nothing revolutionary about this cupcake. Now what if you were to take a word like innovation and apply it to a little cupcake like that one?”
This is what Nelson tries to do with her cupcakes.
While her baking always starts from scratch, innovation doesn’t have to, she said.
“Today, I’m excited to take you on a journey. It’s my journey, but it could have been anyone’s journey,” Nelson said. “I hope that I will open your eyes to the possibility of innovation in the everyday.”
Nelson started out working in finance, but she decided to pursue her passion for baking by attending pastry school. After pastry school, Nelson had a business making special occasion cakes, but the job wasn’t right for her.
“I wanted to make something delicious with those beautiful ingredients I was using for my special occasion cakes, but something that was simpler and something that people could eat on a daily basis,” she said.
Inspiration struck for Nelson as she noticed that more and more brides were trading in traditional cakes for cupcake towers.
“I knew that this humble cupcake desperately needed a makeover,” she said. “I thought I could elevate it, use the same ingredients I was using for my special occasion cakes and make it more sophisticated. If I made it more sophisticated, it wouldn’t just appeal to kids, right? It would appeal to kids and adults.”
Instead of piping her frosting, Nelson used a spatula and smoothed the frosting of her cupcakes. Instead of using traditional sprinkles, Nelson created the trademarked Sprinkles dot.
She made her cupcakes elegant — something that a Beverly Hills audience could appreciate. Her business boomed because she chose to embrace innovation.
Since then, Nelson has appeared as a judge on the first ten seasons of “Cupcake Wars,” has written a New York Times best-selling book and has spoken on talk shows around the country.
In the midst of her success, Nelson still remembers the simple acts of innovation that made her business such a huge success.
“It is very unifying. Food is a universal experience. Food brings people together.”
This article written by Liz Gresser. Photos courtesy of Belmont University.