A day prior to the fourth anniversary of the opening of Saxbys’ experiential hub located on 34th Street, “Coffee, Conversation, Connections,” an event hosted by Start.Stay.Grow. took place April 12. Start.Stay.Grow is a collective that seeks to match a solid network of young entrepreneurs and mentors throughout the city.
The event was held at the Saxbys’ headquarters, which is nestled in the pockets of Center City, attracted a bright group of students from the varying institutions of Villanova University, Temple University and Drexel University, among several others, who are in the process of carving their paths in the world of entrepreneurship sought to learn from an expert in the business: Saxbys CEO and founder Nick Bayer.
Bayer, an adjunct professor at the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship shared the intimate unfoldings of the journey that took him from a student with a degree in government and economics to embarking on a non-linear, unconventional pursuit into the coffee industry. His leap of faith into the field ultimately proved worthwhile as it has enabled him to etch a one-of-a-kind business model — one that hones in on interweaving compassion, service and culture.
Saxbys is now a thriving competitor against franchises as large as Starbucks, but he admitted that the tremendous growth of the company did not come easy.
“I didn’t know how to write a business plan,” Bayer shared on the topic of his early mistakes.
Other initial roadblocks included not having a solid vision or business plan and facing more than enough rejection from investors.
He would later quit his position at a consulting firm and found Saxbys a few short weeks later.
More than several years into its manifestation, students in the hub of Philadelphia now have the opportunity to excel into leadership opportunities of their own. The program, titled the Experiential Learning Program, has grown to include hundreds of pupils between the ages of 18 to 22 who receive leadership positions at both the management and operations levels. Some even have the opportunity to later be promoted to the cafe executive officer, or the “CEO” of the mortar location.
Hindsight 20/20 proves to be one of the best teachers as Bayer credits the continuous process of reflecting, refining the vision, collaborating and setting high standards as the source that has enabled community culture and mission to thrive.
“I realized that I am at my best when I am doing something for other people. If you do something for somebody else and it changes someone’s life, that feeling gains over time,” he said.
Having prior experience in the real-estate, logistics, finance and consulting arenas, he also stressed the importance of young entrepreneurs not being intimidated when it comes to setting their sights high in large markets.
“Get into businesses where the pie is big and work hard to create your niche,” he advised.
As difficult and competitive as breaking into the coffee industry may have been, he said that it ultimately offered a solid foundation to provide something different to the audience of coffee consumers.
“If you don’t have a dying pride, passion, purpose for what it is that you’re going to do, do something different — entrepreneurship is just that hard,” Bayer shared.
This is a mantra that the audience, filled with several of Drexel’s own beckoning entrepreneurs, will now take will them on their respective journeys.
Paris Gramann and Dahrah Muhammad, students of the entrepreneurship school and recent winners of incubator funding distributed by the Baiada Institute, expressed their gratitude for the wisdom that was shared. The two students, who will now have the chance to work independently for a six-month-period to develop their business model while mentored by the likes of Roger Lee, Charles Sacco and other seasoned experts at the school of entrepreneurship, shared their reflection of the evening.
Gramann is currently working on a consumer solution that ties in literature with mental health awareness to facilitate the understanding of mental health at younger ages. Just Be Books is the project set out just to do that.
“As a society, we are getting more comfortable talking about mental health, but there aren’t many accessible products to bridge that gap between knowledge and conversation,” she said.
Recently completing that task of launching her website, JustBeBooks.com, earlier this year, the event helped her better understand what her next steps of actions will be.
“Hearing Nick Bayer speak has encouraged me to really focus on making sure I have my mission statement and my core values honed in so that I grow my team and fuel passion with the people that I will onboard in the future,” she said.
Muhammad also seeks to deliver a product that will help improve the lives of others: Musa’s World, an automated portfolio that serves as a database that is intended to streamline and automate routine diagnostics for children diagnosed or suspected of having autism.
“We are working tirelessly to provide individual levels of care to each child. To make the process easier not just for the parent but the service providers,” she shared. “It’s important for an entrepreneur, if your trying to go into a space, to try to understand as much of it as you can before just jumping fully into it, otherwise you’re not really going to know where to find direction.”
The event also helped to reaffirm the importance and responsibility of entrepreneurship for her.
“Leaders like Nick are important because it helps push me to try everything because nothing impossible. When I graduate, I don’t want to be the person that just says ‘I did it’, but that ‘I did all of it.’ Every year I try something new — something different — and this business is the step in the right direction I’ve always wanted to take,” Muhammad said.
As of now, the main focus for Musa’s World remains centered on autism diagnostics, with a possibility to one day expand to include other diseases.
Muammar Johnson, a Drexel alumnus who graduated back in 2018 with a degree in biomedical engineering, also found the event to be eye-opening.
After experiencing a series of conflicting inner-dialogue as a first-time entrepreneur, he fiddled with the idea of pursuing medical school but was not engaged by the sheer number of extra years of schooling required for credindentals. Ultimately, Johnson affirmed that with his holistic engineering background, creating his own path is the right move for him.
“Is this going to work out? Am I doing this right? Is this the way it’s supposed to be structured? Who knows? Nick gave a good talk on the hardships and mistakes that he’s made and knowing that he encountered the very same [that I am experiencing] and is at the point where he is at now is really enlightening and empowering. I’m jacking up, but it’s okay,” Johnson shared.
He hopes to deliver a unique and tailored nightlife application that expands beyond the Yelp prototype.
Rashi Gala, a freshman in the school of entrepreneurship and a representative of Start.Stay.Grow., also shared positive sentiments of the night’s events.
“Nick Bayer brought a great message of how you should have a social impact while maintaining a healthy relationship with profits, learning from failures and making sure that you’re giving back to the community. It’s a great experience speaking to people who are so established in this industry,” she said.
As the city continues to experience an entrepreneurial awakening of its own, even being dubbed one of the startup capitals in the world to watch according to a report published by Forbes in 2018, it’s now more than ever a time for creative, exciting and original life-changing companies to come to life and shine.