CameroonONE and Service Bar Books
Todd Finklestone BS ’06, MS ’10
When Suffolk students graduate, they’re ready for success in Boston or anywhere else in the world—or in the case of Todd Finklestone, who received his bachelor’s degree in government and his master’s degree in ethics and public policy, both.
Todd’s coursework cultivated a passion for foreign affairs and social justice policy issues. In 2009, he found a way to turn that passion into a career. On a trip to Cameroon with some friends—one of whom was born there—Todd met many orphaned children and witnessed their impoverished living conditions. On the return trip to the US, the group decided to help solve the plight facing more than one million children each year.
Todd and friends formed CameroonONE, a privatized foster care system that provides a home and educational opportunities to orphaned children in west Africa.
As a nonprofit, CameroonONE relies on donations for the bulk of its income. Since fundraising and grant writing are demanding and competitive, Todd realized the organization would be best served if it were a self-sufficient entity. So he got together with a coworker and co-founded Service Bar Books, a children’s picture book publishing company. A portion of Service Bar’s profits—including those from its first publication Fooling Ewe, which Todd illustrated—go directly toward funding CameroonONE’s programs.
With the release of future titles, Todd envisions Service Bar as the sustainable revenue source CameroonONE needs to support orphans into adulthood. The plan is to increase their “future capital” through career development, computer training, and even university enrollment. “Children will never ‘age out’ of our program,” Todd says. “We’re determined to make sure that our personal successes are in concert with the futures of our students in Cameroon.”
Jessica Sutton, BFA ’04
Although the initials might indicate as much, calling Jessica Sutton’s firm a graphic design house is a vast understatement. In fact, it’s a “full branding boutique” that offers a full suite of brand identity work on printed materials, websites, and more.
Jessica takes pride in a hands-on approach that allows her to work closely with clients from businesses small and large, established and new, to develop strong, long-lasting relationships. That’s quite a task, considering she’s worked with more than 100 clients in locations from Boston to Los Angeles, and many places in between.
As her business has grown, so has Jessica’s connection to Suffolk. Recently, she told The Every Girl blog that returning to Suffolk to teach web design was the best moment of her career. “When the students finally ‘got’ HTML and CSS, I felt more satisfied than any other obstacle in my career,” she says. “It became a sort of validation that not only was I an actual adult, but a professional in my field.” She even hired one of her students as an intern and plans to promote her to a full-time position once she graduates.
Jessica’s NESAD education deserves a lot of credit for her success—but not just for her technical design expertise, but also for the ability to run a business. “With small classes, I was able to get a lot of one-on-one time with my professors,” she says. “Not only did NESAD provide art and design direction, but also an insight into business for design.”
Matt Thompson BA ’08
When Matt Thompson was a student at Suffolk, he couldn’t wait to get into his chosen field, film production. So, he didn’t.
Instead, Matt developed his craft by using the equipment available to him and his classmates as a member of the video production club and television station WSUB to experiment and work on side projects.
Suffolk gave Matt a community of experts and critics to tap into and a platform to show his work. It also gave him a taste of the effort it would take to make a successful career in the industry. “Suffolk mirrored the way the real world is,” he says. “There is opportunity out there waiting for you if you’re willing to take advantage of it.”
Matt seized his opportunity and it led him to New York City, where, with a partner, he established GuyManly. The film production company creates music videos, commercials, and branded online entertainment, as well as documentaries and films. In 2012, Matt’s work on a Boston Celtics ad campaign with ad agency Allen & Gerritsen (helmed by Suffolk alum Andrew Graff, MBA ’92) received three Hatch Awards from the Ad Club of Boston.
When he’s in Boston, Matt finds time to visit Suffolk to show his work, speak to students about the business, and catch up with his favorite professors.
“[When I return] it always has the feel of a friend’s home, open doors with people who remember you and are excited to hear what you've been up to,” he says. “I never felt like just another face in the crowd, my professors knew me and I knew them, so I always felt accountable for doing my best.”
Just like in the real world.
David Hartstein BSBA ’85, MBA ’86
If you’ve ever bought flowers “just because,” you may have David Hartstein to thank.
In 1998, David revolutionized the retail flower industry when he opened KaBloom. His plan was a simple one: increase flower purchases in the US by changing the way people thought about buying them—not only at special times of the year, but for any occasion.
At its peak in 2001, KaBloom operated 34 retail shops across the country. Then came a recession and David was forced to pull back the reins, letting people go and closing retail locations. David sold the company in 2006, but he didn’t view it as a failure. Rather, it was an opportunity to differentiate his company from its competitors.
In 2007, after much trial and error, David developed and patented the Moses Miracle, a revolutionary method of shipping flowers in water. Reinvigorated by his invention, David reacquired KaBloom in 2008. Since then, orders have increased by 50 percent and KaBloom remains the only company in the United States able to ship flowers overnight in water.
The double alumnus is now an Executive in Residence at the Sawyer Business School and was recently profiled on NECN’s The Boss. He teaches during the day and runs KaBloom at night. Occasionally, he’ll even deliver bouquets himself.
David Hartstein has always believed the direction of a struggling company can change. KaBloom is living proof of that.
New Leaf is not your typical law firm. Founded in 2009, its client roster is made up entirely of entrepreneurial ventures (including entertainers), start-ups, and small businesses. Plus, it operates on a flat-fee pricing structure. That means all costs are stated upfront with no hourly billing. Communication is included, too. Clients are actually encouraged to contact the firm as often as they need to.
New Leaf’s legal expertise is a product of Suffolk Law’s focused curriculum. The Law School has emerged as a leader in intellectual property (IP), thanks to real-world practice in its IP clinic and collaborations with entrepreneurs from the Sawyer Business School. That experience formed the foundation that allows the trio to focus on its clients’ overall business strategy, as opposed to just their legal needs.
That’s why Jessica, Shannon, and Dan prefer to think of themselves not just as lawyers but as business owners. The firm’s integrated approach, of which law is just one part, appeals to business owners because often they need not only legal counseling, but help with marketing, sales, expansion, investment, or long-term strategy. “Those are the kinds of factors that are important to business owners,” Shannon says. “And we deal with that reality each day within our own business.”
Joe Melville BSBA ’08 and Greg Balestrieri BSBA ’09
Big-money investments are typically reserved for high rollers like Trump, Cuban, or Buffett. Perhaps it’s time to add the names Melville and Balestrieri to the list.
In 2009, Joe and Greg, who are cousins, paid a hefty $3 million for the web domain candy.com. Soon after, they launched “the world’s online corner candy store,” which offers more than 6,000 seasonal and everyday candy items in addition to 6,000 candy-making and baking supply items.
The launch satisfied a vision they had while still students at Suffolk: a place where small and large candy manufacturers receive the same exposure and hard-to-find candies are abundant. As members of a family that operates a third-generation candy company, the cousins had industry expertise and relationships in place. They connected with several Sawyer Business School professors for their guidance and experience in order to develop their business plan. “To have that kind of guidance and experience to develop the idea while we were still students was invaluable,” Joe says.
Although candy.com came with a hefty price tag (the second-highest domain sale of 2009 and in the top 10 all-time) the cousins were confident their investment would help them reach the largest number of consumers. And it paid off: Candy.com has sold to hundreds of thousands of customers to the tune of more than $10 million in sales since its launch. Sometimes, success really is sweet.
Jonathan Mendez BA ’08 and Olivia Chamberland BS ’99, MS ’01
For every well-planned, calculated business idea, there’s one that started out as a drawing on a cocktail napkin. That’s just how Suffolk grads Jonathan Mendez and his sister, Olivia Chamberland, came up with the idea for their company, ZAMFORIA.
The Quincy siblings scrawled a family portrait on a napkin, and then added the word “love” in multiple languages in the white space. That simple addition formed the foundation for a new t-shirt business, which has grown from a whimsical notion into a fashion and retail brand focused on presenting a positive, adventurous, and global outlook on life. In 2010, its first year, ZAMFORIA did $120,000 in sales and has since maintained that high level.
Much of ZAMFORIA’s global inspiration comes from Jonathan’s time spent studying at Suffolk’s Madrid Campus. The exposure to a new culture altered his worldview. “My world expanded to an astonishing degree,” he says. “Not only did I learn Spanish and tour the country with world-class professors, I experienced a different culture and made new friends from around the world." That experience is also what led the owners to start ProjectZAM, a charity endeavor that raises money for student travel abroad. The endeavor has linked ZAMFORIA with international companies such as Hard Rock Café and the business has gained exposure through fundraising events ZAMfest and The Gala.
In just a few years, Jonathan and Olivia have already begun to expand ZAMFORIA. They continue to explore new retail locations and plan to offer new lifestyle-based products including footwear, yoga mats, and rock climbing chalk bags.
Olivia also started LivFitness, a small group personal training studio that operates adjacent to their retail space in Quincy, Mass. The new venture was designed to complement the clothing brand’s positive lifestyle vibe.
Looks like they may need a second napkin.
Ramsay Stevens BA ’09
Despite their inherent benefits, alternative energy projects can face financial obstacles in getting off the ground. Ramsay Stevens, co-founder of E-Capital Development, is in the business of giving these projects the “green” light.
One might wonder how a philosophy major can become an alternative energy financier. It started, naturally, with Aristotle and his work on the golden mean. Ramsay views alternative energy as the ultimate example of a desirable middle between two extremes; the industry’s main purpose is to moderate our overindulgence of finite energy sources.
Ramsay also saw opportunity emerge from an economic perspective. He recognized the potential for impressive investment returns, despite a glaring lack of project funding. That’s how E-Capital got its start.
The New York City firm doesn’t actually make the billion-dollar investments required for massive green projects. Rather, its niche is in its consulting services, particularly originating, structuring, and underwriting project proposals for potential investors. In other words, it allows the investors to focus on funding projects without also having to become alternative energy efficiency engineers.
Ramsay considers his Suffolk education to be inextricably linked with his entrepreneurial spirit. “A formal training in philosophy is the closest you can get to having training in everything, and as an entrepreneur you really do have to prepare for everything,” he says. “Entrepreneurship and philosophy are largely about understanding what you and everyone else don’t know…yet.”
That understanding has helped. In 2010, when the State of Florida passed legislation granting property owners the right to seek financing for energy and wind resistance improvements via an assessment on their property tax bill, E-Capital served as the lead consultant for a team shortlisted to underwrite the $2 billion energy retrofit program. That’s a lot of green.