University of Utah alum Erik Larsen started a cupcake company in the U’s Foundry program and had no idea what would happen next. The idea exploded, taking him to the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and leading to the chance of a lifetime.
When University of Utah student Erik Larsen sent in his promo video for the Food Network’s hit reality show “Cupcake Wars,” he had no way of anticipating that in just a few years he and his family would be opening one of the first cupcake franchises in India.
But now, Erik and his wife Cori are celebrating the grand opening of their first cupcake shop in Mumbai, which took place on Valentine’s Day 2014.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error,” said Erik, a graduate of the U’s department of communication. “We’ve had to face a lot of cultural barriers. For example, in India, no one has ovens; most people cook over an open flame. We are training a guy right now who had literally never seen a spatula or a whisk and who had never seen a cupcake before.”
Erik got his start in the cupcake business in 2010 when he founded Heaven Cupcake with the help of the U’s Foundry program, a 12-week program provided by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and open to all U students passionate about entrepreneurship. What began as a small shop soon grew into a recognized brand as the Foundry connected Erik with the resources he needed to design a logo, create a website and develop a promo video for “Cupcake Wars.”
As a result, Erik was the first baker from Utah featured on the show, an experience so successful the network kept inviting him and Cori back. After their third appearance on “Cupcake Wars,” Erik and Cori received an interesting offer from executives at an India-based company who had seen their performance.
“About two years ago, cupcakes became very big in India, but no one has started a franchise yet,” Cori said. “And no one (in India) understands cupcakes that well so the company thought, ‘why not fly in an American brand?”
Drawn to Erik’s energy and charisma, the executives from Mumbai knew they had found their brand. “Maybe we didn’t win ‘Cupcake Wars,’ but the fact that the company saw Erik on it and really liked his personality — that was it,” Cori said.
Erik, Cori and their daughter Lily arrived in India in September 2013, and since that time the family has traveled all over India sampling cupcakes, experimenting with recipes, and acting as the spokespeople for the new brand. While these developments have forced Erik and Cori to put their degrees to the test, the family has enjoyed experiencing the excitement of a new culture.
Thinking back over how far Heaven Cupcake has come and how far they still have to grow, Erik said, “The Foundry was everything to us; we wouldn’t have a logo, we wouldn’t have a website, we wouldn’t have our search engine optimization done without it. I don’t know if we could have done it without that community around us.”
In the three years since launching, the Foundry has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and helped develop dozens of operating companies that have generated millions of dollars in revenue. But the Foundry’s impact reaches much further than corporate development by focusing on developing successful entrepreneurs, not just companies.
“The Foundry alumni are building great careers,” said William Schulze, a professor at the David Eccles School of Business. “I just got an email from a 20-year-old student who announced that he is retiring. I guess he has enough money now to live on for a while.”
Whether it’s a large company like Armor Active, which grew to over $3 million in value in its first year, or a cupcake company based out of Salt Lake City, the Foundry helps entrepreneurs transform their dreams into reality.
While Erik and Cori are thrilled with the success of Heaven Cupcake, they are already making plans to continue creating in the future. Inspired by the elaborate detail of Indian fashions, Erik and Cori are currently building a new clothing company based out of New York.
“We love doing cupcakes, but it’s always exciting to have a new challenge — one without an expiration date,” Cori said.
Whether living in Mumbai or New York, whether creating cupcakes or clothing, Erik and Cori continue looking forward with optimism, always watching for new markets and new opportunities for innovation.
“You have to keep moving,” Cori said. “There will always be moments of complete frustration when you ask yourself ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we trying to teach people who have no idea what a whisk is how to bake? This is insane!’ But that’s what makes it fun, to know that this is kind of crazy and we are going to do it.” ν