Carlson School Alumni Branch Out with Side Hustles
Friday, October 14, 2022
BY BRIDGET BURNHAM
What happens when the side hustle takes off?
A lot of fun, it turns out. Alumni share stories of building something from nothing, using hard work, ingenuity, and passion. From pies to butter, plants to art and a minor league baseball team, we see how hustles work.
Better Berry Pies
Crystal Osman, ’22 MBA, knew she would use business to combine her love of community with her values of justice, inclusion, and sustainability—but wasn’t sure how. “Starting a business is a privilege,” says Osman. “With whatever I do, I want to ensure I can use my opportunity to create more opportunities for others.” In search of the best structure for her business, Osman began studying local food systems and sustainable food chains.
Meeting the founders of successful food start-ups fueled Osman’s curiosity. But Ann Cohen, senior lecturer of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship, ignited Osman’s confidence and encouraged her to leap. “I remember Ann saying, ‘If you’re waiting for the perfect prototype, you’re waiting too long,’” Osman says. As the idea for a more inclusive pie company started to take shape, Osman spent her 2021 spring break formulating the business plan for Better Berry Pies.
The first iteration of the gluten-free, meringue-crust cream pies first emerged when Osman altered her oft-requested pie recipe to fit the dietary restrictions of a family member with celiac disease. The dessert was a hit, and Osman loved the idea of bringing more joy to people who might not otherwise be able to indulge in a delicious pie.
After getting access to a gluten-free commercial kitchen and the required licensing and training on food safety, Better Berry Pies sold its first pie in July of 2021 at a farmer’s market in Hopkins, Minn. The company, which Osman runs with the support of her partner, Andy, went on to make nearly 800 pies by the end of last year. But fast growth isn’t the objective for Osman, who has also been building and refining a sourcing strategy that focuses on high-quality ingredients that are certified organic and as local as possible while also aligning the company with partners who hold similar values. While Osman acknowledges navigating the food industry as a startup isn’t always easy, she says the appreciation from customers, community connections, and joy that comes with each intentional step forward keeps her going. “It’s exciting to see what we’ll learn and how we can shape the business to create more opportunities,” says Osman. “It’s a long-term vision, and we’re taking it one day at a time.”
Some people face challenges, and some run toward them with enthusiasm. Ryan Bucki, ’14 MBA, is one of the latter. The propensity to lean into the hard things with positivity is at the heart of Fit Butters, the nationally distributed brand of nut butters he and his wife, Danielle, founded in April 2020.
When people stopped going to the gym during the pandemic, Bucki, who produces content to support workout supplement product launches, knew it would be bad for business. Instead of backing down, he doubled down. With fewer product promotions, Bucki began supporting viewers with healthy, step-by-step recipes. One of those recipes became the first flavor of Fit Butter.
Inspired by recipes on Pinterest, the Buckis knew they had something special as soon as they tasted what would become the first proprietary Fit Butters blend of nuts, flavors, healthy fats, and high-quality complete protein sources. “We compared our nut butters to all the other brands, and none of them tasted as good or had as many sources of healthy fats,” says Ryan, who has a background in food marketing as a former brand manager for General Mills’ Cascadian Farms. He stayed up the rest of that night trademarking the name, designing the logo, and brainstorming more flavors. Within two weeks, the first commercial run of Fit Butters came off the production line. You can now find Fit Butters nationwide in more than 1,500 retail locations.
There is sure to be a wild ride ahead for Fit Butters, which faces unprecedented global supply chain disruptions and growing economic uncertainty in a highly competitive sector. But the brand and the Buckis continue to make big moves, even through challenging times. The company recently announced plans to roll out a proprietary protein flavoring system in late 2022, and the Buckis are expecting their third child in February. “We’re building something valuable with hard work, hustle, and humility,” says Ryan. “It’s amazing to have the opportunity to see the world through something you created.”
The Plant Penthouse
Shayla Owodunni, ’12 BSB, describes herself as an “expressive soul.” From her early days sporting green, knee-high stockings and a pink dress on the playground to developing her personalized approach to management consulting, Owodunni feels most at home when she can joyfully inspire others to embrace their authentic selves.
In 2020, while Owodunni was leveraging her relationships and audit and compliance background to build her Minneapolis–based management consulting firm, Corporate Carpentry, she also launched a lifestyle blog, called “The Plant Penthouse.”
What started as a place to showcase a love of interior styling and plant care soon evolved into opportunities for broader reach and deeper connection, an intention Owodunni built into the name of her business. “The definition of a penthouse has broadened,” says Owodunni. “It doesn’t necessarily mean space on the top floor of a building. A penthouse can be anywhere you can use unique style choices to create a different level of extravagance.”
As her posts amassed followers and ignited community engagement, Owodunni began to expand her brand as a “plant concierge,” providing styling recommendations, guided plant shopping, and full interior styling, as well as personalized scouting, shopping, and staging. You can find her space and ideas in features on major local and national media outlets, including Apartment Therapy, Artful Living, HGTV, Midwest Home, and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine
Owodunni is living out unapologetic self-expression by intentionally growing The Plant Penthouse in a way that lets her stay authentically connected to her community while staying true to herself. After multiple requests to host photo shoots in her apartment, Owodunni decided to open a separate Plant Penthouse space in a commercial studio in Northeast Minneapolis. She looks forward to using The Plant Penthouse II to host clients, deliver plant and styling workshops, and bring new ideas to life.
“I’m excited to see where this idea will go as a brand that is bigger than me,” says Owodunni. “The real joy is building and sustaining the intentional relationships that allow us to grow together.”
When Alexandra Starr, ’08 BSB, saw contestants on The Bachelorette slinging paint together as part of a creative date, she knew it was something she wanted to try.
“I thought, ‘That looks like a lot of fun! Why can’t I do that?’” says Starr. But as she looked for a venue where she and her husband, Steve Knier, ’08 BSB, could go, her search came up empty. Instead of seeing a dead end, Starr saw a blank canvas.
“What if there was a place you could go to create art without purchasing all the materials and dealing with the mess?” says Starr. “When you see people making cool abstract pieces on TikTok with different materials and techniques, I think a lot of us would like to try it for ourselves. We just might want a little help.”
Starr, who has two small children and was working full-time, sat on the idea for three months before telling her husband she wanted to do it. “There was something inside me telling me, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” says Starr. “I knew if I died tomorrow, I would have wished I started Mess Hall.”
A friend with an art background agreed to run the day-to-day operations, so Starr started looking for a space. Many people would see signing a lease during the height of the pandemic as overwhelming, but Starr shone. “The business and accounting sides have set me up for success,” says Starr. “Our strengths in taxes, accounting, and finance have allowed us to see growth opportunities we might have missed.”
Mess Hall officially opened in October 2021 in Hopkins, Minn., with guided art experiences and messy activities for all ages and occasions. Starr says the bestselling packages are for kids, but she loves when adults come in to create as part of a networking group or teambuilding exercise. “It’s fun to see another side of people in what they create and share,” says Starr. “It can be hard for adults to step out of their comfort zones and play. They want to replicate something they’ve seen or be told what to do. But the magic is in the mess of finding your creativity.”
The Sioux Falls Canaries
When Brian Slipka, ’00 BSB, and Anthony Albanese, ’01 BSB, met during first-year orientation at the Carlson School, they quickly became lifelong friends. The ambitious undergraduates became roommates and even discussed—somewhat in jest—buying a baseball team together way back when. Although the two eventually went their separate ways, their paths stayed connected. And 24 years later, Slipka and Albanese had the opportunity to revisit their dream of owning a minor league baseball team from a new shared perspective.
After graduation, Albanese left the Twin Cities for Chicago, building a successful career in brand marketing before starting the fast-growing men’s grooming company, Duke Cannon Supply Co. Slipka stayed in Minnesota, holding several high-profile sales and leadership positions in professional services and technology while investing in a portfolio of 20 independent operating companies he now has a controlling interest in under North Equity Partners.
In addition to achieving business success, both Carlson School graduates became community leaders and philanthropists. Part of Albanese’s mission is to support U.S. veterans, and a portion of Duke Cannon’s proceeds supports causes like Operation Homefront and the Honor Flight Network. Slipka and his wife, Megan, founded the Slipka Foundation, a nonprofit committed to character in leadership and community stewardship, where they have endowed numerous scholarships and community projects.
When Slipka and Albanese reunited in November of 2020, and the topic of owning a baseball team resurfaced, they weren’t looking for another pastime or business venture. The friends and former classmates wanted to unite to make a difference. In March of 2021, after a cross-country search for the right team and community to partner with, Slipka and Albanese became co-owners of the Sioux Falls Canaries, a minor league team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the city where Slipka was born.
For the past year and a half, Slipka and Albanese have been rebuilding the team’s culture by meeting with community leaders, donating to charities, and establishing recurring events like Faith and Family Nights and Daycare Days. There have been plenty of opportunities for fun, with game promotions such as Seinfeld bobbleheads and Big Lebowski Night.
Still, Slipka says the most enjoyable part of team ownership is the community: “Transforming this team into a powerful force for good in the community is an opportunity and a blessing that goes beyond baseball.”
This article appeared in the Fall 2022 alumni magazine
Transitions present a time for celebration and reflection.
The Carlson School looks at past and present initiatives with an eye toward the future.