“I was all in the moment I started NFTE. I went home and read the entire textbook the first week of class. I always knew I wanted to start a business.

—Jennifer LaSala
  • Before she found NFTE, Jennifer was on the verge of dropping out.
  • She discovered her passion in an entrepreneurship class and at the age of 17 she launched her first business.
  • Now she runs two successful gourmet bakeries and has plans to open two more.
  • At just 26 years old, she was named Massachusetts Entrepreneur of the Year and then Entrepreneur of the Year for all of New England by the Small Business Administration.

Jennifer knows better than most that your future does not always go exactly as planned. However, with an entrepreneurial mindset and business skills, you can take control of your own future. Her story is proof of that.

Jennifer’s interests had always been centered around cooking and baking, and her first business idea involved cookies dipped in chocolate. Despite “hating school and being ready to drop out,” she stayed because she felt deeply engaged by her NFTE class. “NFTE was the only thing that stopped me from quitting school at that time,” she says.

As a teen, she launched her first business: Sugar-Coated Heaven. She took third place with her presentation at a regional business plan pitch competition. Although she was disappointed not to win, her evocative brand name and the delicious product had potential. So, she built a real business while she was still in high school.

That inspired her to reach higher. She set her sights on studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University but found the price tag to be out of reach. Undaunted, she increased her cookie sales through pop-up shops until she was able to cover the cost of college and put herself through school.

After college, with the help of her NFTE mentors, she was just about to open her first store when disaster struck in the form of a serious accident. She broke her neck and subsequently was placed on medication that caused serious food sensitivities. That meant that she couldn’t have any major allergen foods such as gluten or lactose.

As she recovered from her injuries and the complications caused by her medications, the natural expectation was that she would be too devastated to return to her business. However, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear, and she began conceiving of the plans that have led her to reinvent herself and her business.

As a result, Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery was born. Her delicious baked goods and prepared foods are free of all allergens, and she has built such a reputation in her market niche that people flock to her storefront at the famed Boston Public Market from all over the United States. Her business is thriving and her store is a mecca for those with dietary restrictions. In the words of one loyal customer, Jennifer’s bakery is “the one place that we feel normal, where we can order all these delicious things without worrying.”

Jennifer has begun to earn more attention from the media and received celebrity endorsements as well as serious interest from potential investors. She has launched a second store in Worcester, Massachusetts, and plans to open two more locations in New England. At just 26 years old, Jennifer was also named Massachusetts and New England Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year.

(Photo sources: Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery, U.S. Small Business Association & Boston Public Market)