Blends Baking and Science to Cook Up Delectable Confections and Delightful Workshops
When Shawn Bolduc moved to Madison four years ago to begin his current job as an arts administrator for Memorial Union, he brought his passion for baking along with him. Bolduc has been in the theater industry since he was a child and studied piano performance in college. He started baking for fun as an undergraduate in college and thought about going to culinary school afterwards, instead sticking with theater and earning an MFA in theater management from Florida State University.
“I pushed myself to continue down the arts administration path and set myself up for a good career,” he says.
Several years working in arts administration landed him in Madison, where he continued to bake in his spare time and launched an Instagram feed that featured his beautiful culinary creations.
“This community is so supportive,” he says. Many of his friends encouraged him to begin baking full-time, and he came up with a business name that melded his love of baking with his interest in the science behind it: The Baked Lab.
Madison photographer Marla Berg, one of Bolduc’s closest friends, threw a party in her downtown studio featuring Bolduc’s cakes and celebrating his next step.
“This has been my dream,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to work for myself, and here I am doing it,” he adds. “Madison has provided that backdrop. The resources I have found are what have made it possible for me.”
One such resource was the Small Business Development Center at UW-Madison (SBDC).
“Having worked in nonprofit arts management for some time, I had an understanding of business operations and strategic planning, and I was trying to figure out how to bring that together, and what steps I needed to take,” Bolduc says. “Someone asked if I’d checked out the SBDC, and I realized they had an Entrepreneurial Training Program.”
Bolduc signed up for the program, prepared to focus on the ETP’s culminating activity: a complete business plan.
“That was the glue,” he says. “I needed that push to get everything down on paper.”
Bolduc appreciated that the program provided access to additional resources at the Wisconsin School of Business, like librarian Peggy Smith. “Peggy is an incredible resource when it comes to market research,” says Bolduc. “She helped me navigate databases to learn more about demographics and focus on some numbers.”
Bolduc appreciated that ETP and the business plan template provided him with structure for thinking about his business, yet also allowed for flexibility. He had the ability to step outside the box and think about how each section of the template worked for him.
“The template was a guide for me to start thinking holistically about my business,” he says. “A major piece of the Entrepreneurial Training Program was having that structure to help guide my thinking.”
Bolduc reached out to consultant Anne Inman throughout the Entrepreneurial Training Program because of her financial expertise and continues to work with her.
“She is gracious with her time,” Bolduc says. “I talked with her a month ago about taxes. She looked through QuickBooks with me and less than a day later, sent me an email follow-up with multiple resources.”
On September 1, 2020, Bolduc moved into a kitchen at Main Street Industries, which is managed by the nonprofit business incubator Common Wealth Development, Inc. To land a studio or kitchen space at a Common Wealth Development, Inc. property, prospective tenants go through a robust, three-round application process. They submit a business plan and participate in two group interviews. Bolduc used the business plan he created in the Entrepreneurial Training Program to apply.
“I was able to go back to the business plan, which had received good feedback, and build it out from there,” says Bolduc. “I went back to Anne, and she gave me incredible advice about negotiating rent in a pandemic in a commercial space. She also helped me revisit the financials in my business plan. That plan helped me through the process of applying for a space.”
Initially, Bolduc thought the business would be more focused on weddings and large events, but through his work with ETP and Inman, he realized how much he loves sharing his passion. He had always planned to dedicate part of his business to teaching baking classes, and the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired him to make workshops a larger portion of the business.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everyone was stuck at home, and the classes blew up,” Bolduc says. “That was a really big motivator in developing the business over the past year.”
He started a series of “In the Lab” virtual workshops. Attendees receive a list of ingredients and join him for a live bake-along.
“We hang out and try something. It’s super chill, but I focus on the science behind it,” he says. “Right now, I say the business is part dessert studio and part learning laboratory.”
The classes continue to grow, with attendees from all over the country, including Boston, Florida, Texas and Oregon. Bolduc also hosts team-building workshops for companies.
“Those are a blast,” Bolduc says. “I just did a third one with the advertising agency Leo Burnett in Chicago and have an upcoming one with a group out of Denver.”
He taught a holiday workshop with a group of families inspired by the reality show “Nailed It!”, in which bakers compete to recreate elaborate desserts.
“I sent them all the ingredients, decorations, and tools, and we did a baking competition on Zoom,” says Bolduc.
Bolduc also offers a Sunday dinner edition of “In the Lab”.
“The goal is to communally cook dinner and then share it with our households,” he says. “Families will even bring their kids on to cook, as well!”
Bolduc has figured out that his personality is a key ingredient of his brand.
“I’m really interested in my business being my personal brand, rather than an ordinary bakery,” he says. “I’d rather be sharing my passion and teaching people about baking from home, and then they order a wedding cake because they want me to make their cake.”
The Baked Lab has a popular Instagram feed, a Facebook page, and a website.
“I’m trying to build my personal brand. It’s really about connecting with people, which is one piece of why I bake,” he says. “Social media is an incredible tool in this current day.”
Bolduc’s ultimate goal is to run the Baked Lab full-time, and he knows the SBDC can help him get there.
“When you partake in a class like ETP, you become part of SBDC, and you’re always welcomed there,” he says. “We all constantly need help in business, and being part of SBDC means you always have somebody to answer questions or just give you a push.”