Tessa Porter, ’09 & ’18, created award-winning candy by combining her culinary heritage with an enthusiasm for food science but was missing one important piece to deliver her delicacies to the marketplace. The MBA@Nebraska program provided the final ingredient for entrepreneurial success and prepared her to launch her own candy development and contract manufacturing company called Sprinkk.
“Making a leap into starting a business like Sprinkk can be extremely daunting, but things I learned during my MBA provided insight and tools needed to make it work,” said Porter. “I relied on MBA classes to build a team of more than 20 scientists in my past role as head of Innovation and Technology at a major candy company.”
Learning from faculty and fellow students, Porter put her business principles into action at the Ferrara Candy Company.
“As a new manager, I was most grateful for the courses on organizational behavior and talent acquisition. I still use the organizational behavior information daily, as well as the corporate finance course. The finance courses were the most challenging and are the ones I’m most grateful to have taken. I often refer to what I learned to make sure I’m on the right track,” she said.
Jake Messersmith, department chair and associate professor of management, who taught Porter organizational behavior, emphasized her natural ability to make connections. He believes Sprinkk is built on her passion for people and candy.
“Tessa was a great addition to the MBA@Nebraska program,” said Messersmith. “She made excellent contributions to class discussions thanks to her impressive background in the confectionery industry. She added great insights to her management classes and is now proving herself to be a formidable entrepreneur. She’s a great representative of the type of early and mid-career professionals who add value to the learning experience within the MBA@Nebraska.”
Ranked No. 1 for Best Value, No. 3 for career services and No. 4 for online interaction by the Financial Times in 2022, the MBA@Nebraska program made it tough for Porter to go outside her home state to earn her degree. Nevertheless, she analyzed programs across the country before choosing a graduate school.
“When I started looking into MBA programs, a mentor suggested a matrix to compare programs,” said Porter. “I put together a list of more than 10 options that compared rank, cost, curriculum and reviews. Of all the options on my list, Nebraska easily provided the best value.”
With an MBA and extensive experience working in the candy industry, Porter created Sprinkk on a foundation of a strong family work ethic and her entrepreneurial spirit. As a child, Porter’s futuristic thinking put her in the mode of making a business startup a reality.
“I have always liked games and challenges, and creating a profitable business is really just a big game of strategy. I used to write out ideas about different businesses that I would create. My favorite was a concept for a burrito restaurant that was well-planned for a fifth grader. I started a side hustle in high school making elaborate cheesecakes in custom-built boxes and spent so much time making them perfect that I lost money on my time," said Porter.
The MBA@Nebraska provided Porter with the practical business knowledge to mesh with her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style of thinking. Porter, who previously captured the 2019 and 2021 Most Innovative Product Award at the national Sweets & Snacks Expo with her team at Ferrara for inventing Trolli Sour Crunchy Crawlers and NERDS Gummy Clusters, now focuses on a different kind of sweet treat.
“We are expanding Sprinkk into manufacturing by building a small candy factory for gummy and fruit snack production,” she said.
Porter found her way into the candy industry while looking for financial resources for college. Her search for candy scholarships led her to winning the American Association of Candy Technologists awards several times, and she became "hooked" on candy science. She hopes to pass her love of science, business and candy on to other budding female entrepreneurs.
"I enjoy using candy to encourage younger kids, especially younger females, to explore science and all the fascinating things it can unlock. Not only is candy science fun, but the chemistry of candy is challenging," she said. "There is something about the molecular capabilities of sugar I found easy to visualize and became fascinated with how manipulating it can create so many textures and products. It allows me to dive deep into nerdy chemistry while also working with things everyone is familiar with and enjoys.”
Porter points back to her family life in Albion, Nebraska, as helping her thrive in the candy industry. She views it as the sweetness of her hard-working success.
“My parents encouraged us to go out and be anything we wanted to be. I grew up in a hard-working small-town family. I spent summers working with my older brother and sister on our dad’s construction crew. My mom was the business manager for St. Michael’s Catholic Church and school for 25 years. My dad worked two jobs as long as I’ve been around until he retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He is also now helping me build the candy factory,” said Porter.
Her sister uses her Nebraska doctorate in plant health to translate crop chemistry into information for farmers across the country, and her older brother is "the most brilliant, engineering plumber." She also launched a fruit snack brand with her grandmother, Norma, called Norma’s Handcrafted Fruity Snacks.
"Norma’s Fruit Snacks served as somewhat of a test of the Sprinkk business model and manufacturing goals while getting to create wholesome, transparent products that I’ve always wished existed. The goal is to continue to grow the brand into major retail within the next couple of years, while growing Sprinkk as the national hub for candy innovation," Porter said. "We are quite literally always creating new things."
Learn more about expanding your career opportunities with the MBA@Nebraska program. To remove the barriers to applying, the MBA@Nebraska program no longer requires a GMAT or GRE score. Students can also start in the fall, spring or summer due to a rolling admissions process with priority deadlines of July 1, November 1 and April 1.
Published: September 7, 2023