Kelli Lipson, ‘18BUS, was a senior at Bucknell University when she started using cafeteria condiment cups to make jello shots and other fun, spirit-laden concoctions for social gatherings around campus. She didn’t realize it at the time, but she’d just stumbled upon the concept that would shape the trajectory of her professional and academic future, ultimately leading to the launch of her own business: Spoonable Spirits.
“That was my first experience developing the concept for Spoonable Spirits,” Kelli says. “I’d take them with me to different parties — my friends loved them — and it gave me this identity as someone who knew how to bring a whole lot of fun to any situation, but in a new and totally original way.”
After graduating, Kelli took a job working for Food Network star Sandra Lee, where she managed special projects and partnerships. “She taught me everything I needed to know about branding, marketing, and what’s popular within the food world,” she says of Lee. “I learned so much from her, not only about food, but also about how to build a business.”
But as Kelli familiarized herself with the food industry landscape, she noticed that many of the prevailing trends had plateaued. “At the time, cupcakes were all the rage, but there just weren’t enough items to bring to parties around which to develop fresh new ideas.”
That’s when Kelli returned to her old party trick, contemplating its viability in what she saw as a stagnant treat market.
In May of 2016 — five years into her time at Food Network and three months before she planned to begin business school — Kelli launched Spoonable Spirits, a party-perfect line of liquor-infused puddings and jellies. This new iteration was a re-imagined, gourmet version of her college party staple, served fresh in festive mini mason jars.
Kelli planned to target millennial consumers and built her brand ethos accordingly. “There are a few key things for millennials,” she says. “I wanted it to be a fresh product, I wanted it to be of the highest quality, and I wanted convenience.”
It wasn’t until Kelli was named runner up in the New York Library’s StartUP! 2016 business plan competition that she realized the full potential of her idea. From there, after classes had begun at Columbia, she entered SoFi’s entrepreneurship program and won.
“So many people ask me, ‘Kelli, how do you start a business while you’re in school?’ The reality is, you have to manage your loans very carefully. That’s where SoFi can really help.”
But despite the challenges of balancing loans and business expenses, Kelli says there have been numerous advantages to running her business while actively enrolled in classes.
“What’s incredible about having a startup during the Columbia program is that you’re immediately applying what you learn in class — the questions that you ask aren’t just hypothetical,” she says. “I can’t even explain how helpful it has been to be a student at Columbia while running this business.”
In the year since its launch, Spoonable Spirits has taken off among food influencers, and services like CaterCow and PostMates offer Kelli’s products. Having spent the first six months focused on individual and small sales, she’s now turning her attention to larger orders — weddings, parties, and catering — each of which presents an opportunity not only to sell, but to market to a new group of potential customers before Spoonable Spirits hit stores.
Kelli’s one tip for other entrepreneurial hopefuls? Don’t get hung up on crafting a perfect business plan or fully evolved product before launching.
“You don’t have to start with the final product.” She says. “If anything, perfectionism will keep you from ever getting out there and doing it. You can create a product and watch it evolve.”
Interested in trying out Spoonable Spirits for yourself? Kelli’s delicious concoctions will be included in the free lunch at the Food Founder’s Fare during this year’s #StartupColumbia festival, April 13th and 14th. Get your tickets here, before it’s too late!