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Sweet Success: A Conversation with Candace Nelson

Learn how the Sprinkles Cupcakes founder pivoted to turn her passion into profit.

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This fall, we gathered an intimate group of world-class female business leaders from across the country for a three-day retreat featuring thought-provoking programming and inspiring conversation.

Steph Wagner, National Director of Women & Wealth, sat down with Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes and Pizzana, TV personality, best-selling author and, most recently, a guest shark on “Shark Tank,” to share Candace’s inspiring story on what can be accomplished when we think big.

We hope you enjoy learning how this female founder made the transition from banker to baker, and how she is inspiring others to lean into joy and bet on themselves. 

Enjoy their full conversation.

Interview Transcript

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Steph Wagner: First of all, Candace, thank you for being here. I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation.

Candace Nelson: I am delighted to be here. I love being in community with other women. I love you. Thank you for your generosity and bringing us all together, and for spotlighting my story.

SW: Well, when you and I first met earlier this year, it did not take long for me to see your passion for helping others think big, be bold, and create the most they can with their life, both financially and emotionally. And as we began to talk and I began to share more and more about the work we are doing with women through our Elevating Women platform, I asked, ‘Would you be open to collaborating?’ You were a ‘heck yeah!’ All in. No hesitation. And I thank you for that because you have an incredible story and it’s very inspiring. And it isn’t just because of your incredible accomplishments. I mean, yes, you went from being jobless on the couch, depressed — which you are very open about — to turning the baking industry upside down, creating a cupcake frenzy through Sprinkles. You also founded a new company, Pizzana, and are part of two best-hit shows. I don’t know if you all know this, but Candace is also an executive producer of an upcoming show, a two-time best-selling author and most recently, a guest shark on ‘Shark Tank,’ which just aired last week — unbelievable, tremendous accomplishments.

Shark Tank, September 2023

CN: Available to view on Hulu if you missed it!

SW: That’s right!

But I have to tell you, what speaks to me the most, what is so inspiring about you, is your heart. You start the first paragraph of your book saying that ‘nothing lights you up more than a fresh idea, a fresh start.’ And when people come to you with those ideas, you are the first to say, ‘How can I help?’ Those are not just words on paper. You live it. I’ve experienced it. Others have, too. You are a shining example of what can be created when we think big, we bet on ourselves, and I think most importantly, pay it forward to help others do the same. And I thank you for that. It is very inspiring and I sincerely appreciate your friendship.

CN: Wow. That’s a really amazing compliment. Thank you, Steph. Are we done now? Because wow — let’s end on a high note! That was perfect.

SW: Well deserved.

CN: Thank you so much. That’s really beautiful.

SW: But your path to entrepreneurship was certainly not a straight one, right? I mean, you do not come from generations of business owners. I think you have such an incredible story of growing up in Indonesia and then your subsequent journey. So please start there and share a little bit about the beginning.

CN: I think sometimes we look at entrepreneurs and we think they have something that the rest of us don’t. But I’m here to dispel that myth because there was absolutely nothing entrepreneurial about my upbringing. My dad was a corporate lawyer. And very risk averse. He worked for two American companies over his career life span. He was a very loyal employee to the point where anytime they asked him to move, he did. He brought his family of four with him. And so, ultimately, I was moving every couple of years as a child and often in Southeast Asia. I was actually born in Jakarta, Indonesia, lived there and then also Medan, Sumatra, Hong Kong, Singapore. My parents lived in Bangkok, but then we also spent time in the upper Midwest. And so I was raised with this belief that you get a job, you become a loyal employee, and you work your way up the ranks. And that was the dream. There was really nothing, or nobody, modeling entrepreneurship in my world. It was certainly the furthest thing from my mind.

But one thing that childhood really prepared me for was the discomfort of entrepreneurship. Because as a young child, I had to uproot myself and everything and everyone I knew every couple of years and show up in a new place and a new school, often a new country, and try to make friends. That was really uncomfortable and that was often scary and it was really hard. But it taught me to show up, look around, find a lunch table, some new friends to sit with, smile, and grin and bear it and kind of fake it until I really did make those friends. So again, entrepreneurship was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought I’d be a doctor, a banker, a lawyer, what have you for my professional path. And yeah, that was my crazy childhood.

SW: And then you did become a banker, right? So you followed those traditional ‘do the right thing’ approach. So tell us a little bit about that transition from banker to baker and give us a little bit of history around that transition when you first got out of college and entered into that crazy world — which I can relate to, as I started my career in that world too. It is a crazy world, very different than entrepreneurship as well.

CN: Yes, but similar hours! So I went to a very sort of crusty academic boarding school where we were being groomed to be, you know, heads of nonprofits or lawyers or bankers. From there I went to a liberal arts college. I was recruited out of that college to go work at an investment bank in the Bay Area. I was working in the corporate finance department of a small boutique investment bank working with tech companies. It was the height of that early dot-com boom, and I felt like I was on top of the world because it was a really prestigious job. I was making a lot of money right out of the gate and I was making it in a man’s world. Wesleyan, which was the college I went to, was very progressive. And even back in the day — this was around 1995 — we were taking the ‘E’ out of women and spelling it as ‘womyn.’ And that was the level of feminism that was prevalent on my campus. And so this idea that I was shattering glass ceilings, and I was going to be one of the only women at my investment bank, that was really important to me. That made me very proud.

Portrait of Steph Wagner outdoors
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