Olivia Carpenter, founder of Via’s Cookies. (Credit: Courtesy of Via’s Cookies)

Olivia Carpenter first sold her homemade cookies at a cafe near her Ithaca, New York, home in 2021. When one professor tried some, they almost immediately encouraged her to enter a local business competition. Carpenter was hesitant to go pro at baking – until she realized she could use the profits from her business to help others. Then, she was all in, and she founded Via’s Cookies later that same year. Her company makes – you guessed it – a delicious range of cookies, from regular chocolate chip to vegan and gluten-free options. Motivated by the financial struggles she herself faced when paying her tuition, Carpenter enacted a plan to donate a portion of her proceeds to struggling students of color, as well as those who are members of the LGBTQ community. Today, Carpenter is laser focused on continuing to grow Via’s Cookies. 

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

I was selling my cookies at a market when a mother approached with her young child. She smiled at me and let her kid pick out a cookie, and then thanked me for making gluten-free and vegan options – because her son had never been able to enjoy cookies due to his allergy restrictions. It made me so happy, I almost cried. 

I’ve had little kids run up to my stand, money in hand, and buy a cookie – then stand there and eat it. They turn to me, with wide eyes, and say through their cute little gap-toothed grins that “this is the best cookie I’ve ever had!” That’s a huge win for me, too. 

Another big success? Winning the Chavez/Lorde Social Justice Award from my Alma mater, Ithaca College, for community service in 2022. 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

I want my products to be affordable. However, supplies and overhead are expensive. So, I found a local financial advisor to help me work on my margins. 

Scaling is difficult, and at first, I did not know which direction I wanted to take. I was juggling multiple options and stretching myself thin in the process. Then, last summer, I sat myself down and meditated. I asked myself very seriously if I really wanted to run a business. My gut said, “Absolutely yes!” Since then I have nailed down a path to growth, and am pounding the pavement pushing my product. 

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that affected your business decisions? 

I don’t have any financial support from my family, and I live far from home. I’ve had to build my own community and my own brand from the ground up. I’ve faced racism, sexism and homophobia. My mentality is to not let these things affect me – but they have affected the way I operate in business. 

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Find local resource centers, such as credit unions or business help centers. Have them guide you through all the legal and financial details of starting up. There are a lot of people who will help you for free – and if you take advantage of that, you will save yourself a lot of trouble!

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

Music. If I’m ever in a bad mood, or feel as if the world is crumbling around me, I stick on a pair of headphones and play some upbeat music. I close my eyes and feel my body as I dance in my kitchen, or my living room, or out on the grass. It always brings me joy, because I remember that I’m here on Earth to feel.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?

“El Mismo Sol” by Alvaro Soler. It’s impossible not to dance to it!

Who is your most important role model?

My mother. I had a rough childhood – and when I look back, I see that my mother was fighting so many battles while still remaining strong for her four children. She fed us good food, even though we were incredibly poor. And, she was a young mother who went through a horrible divorce, but continuously picked herself up and kept on going. Today, she is pursuing her own path and running a business. I think she’s doing amazing. ◼

Instagram: @ViasCookies

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