Everyone needs a sweet treat from time to time, a sentiment that BA Events Management graduate Jessica Lee is passionate about. She is preparing to launch the Sweet Treat Food Festival, an Essex-based event focused solely on confectionary goodies. Jessica’s business offers a unique way for people to get their sweet fix, while allowing local businesses to showcase their traditional sweet treats or low sugar confectionaries.

How it started…

I originally become part of the University of Essex community while working at the on-site nursery. It was the sense of community that encouraged me to explore my higher education prospects. Having settled on Events Management as my subject, it was a no-brainer for me to apply to Edge Hotel School after learning about the unique hospitality experience I would gain at the facilities on my doorstep.

I discovered Essex Startups during my third year, via an Innovation and Entrepreneurship module that I had chosen as part of my course. Members of the Startups Team led the lessons for the module, providing the expert knowledge and insight I needed to confirm that I wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial pathway.

During the module we were asked to come up with an idea and start working on a business model, researching the market, and identifying opportunities. It was here that the concept for Sweet Treat Food Festival started to come together.

I began receiving 1:1 mentoring from the team, which helped me to refine my ideas and consider the scalability of my business. They provided a range of invaluable advice, specifically around budgeting and honing my creativity into a marketing strategy. I was also given the support and encouragement to explore funding opportunities and begin pitching for investment.

How it’s going…

Sweet Treat is an all-confectionary food festival, currently based in the Essex region with plans to expand to different areas of the UK. It’s a fun event for people of all ages with entertainment catered to all age groups. Providing a platform for local business is central to the culture of the business, as is the involvement of food-focused community support initiatives in the planning of my events.

I recently participated in the Dragon’s Den pitching event and applied for the Essex Startups Grant, and as grateful to be awarded funding for both. These experiences have allowed me to perfect the structure and style of my pitch and given me the investment needed to take my business forward. I took part in the Essex Startups Showcase at the beginning of May, which allowed me to promote my business to the wider University community.

After the restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic imposed, I’m excited to bring events to local communities that encourages people to come together and support independent ventures while allowing them to indulge in their favourite sweet treats.

I’m currently focusing my marketing efforts on utilising TikTok and Instagram. In the long term, I plan to use more traditional methods, such as print advertising, working in partnership with local businesses and going into schools.

I was thrilled to receive funding and was very thankful for the feedback I received from the Startups Team, which allowed me to consider new avenues for the business. It also allowed me to adjust my business timeline, which has been very valuable.

The next step…

I’m currently planning a soft launch of the festival during the summer, bringing together a limited selection of stall holders and entertainers to offer a scaled-down version of the event to assess logistics and obtain feedback from customers and businesses.

Managing a good work-life balance is certainly tricky. Making time for yourself is very important and helps you to stay motivated. I’ve found that taking a break between my day job and working on my business in my free time is crucial to me achieving my goals. Without a break, I’m unable to focus. Self-care, whether it’s taking the time to enjoy a hobby or meet with friends has allowed me to be more productive and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

During this journey, it’s been the planning process that has presented the surprises. Having a good idea is merely the start, you then must develop the tools that allow you to adapt and finetune as your idea comes to life. I constantly need to remind myself that it’s okay for me to not know exactly how everything works yet and that I have the Startups Team to support me as I grow. When you’re trying to start a business, it’s almost like learning a new language. It’s important to take your time with each aspect of the business, especially during those early stages.

Words of wisdom…

I’d highly recommend getting in touch with the Essex Startups team. They’ve been instrumental in my progress so far and have helped me feel more confident about my personal and professional abilities.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you feel like you’ve got a good idea, just go for it!

Find out more

If you have a potential business idea, or are interested in developing your business skills, find out more about the training, events and support Essex Startups offers to current students and recent graduates.