By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.
Mia Nichols (20), the founder of C’est La Crepe, was giddy as she recounted her most recent trip to France. “I love learning about new cultures and trying new foods, meeting new people, and hearing about how they live.” For Nichols, experiencing French culture is not out of the ordinary. Her mother, born and raised in France, moved to the U.S. to pursue college. She met her husband while in school, and together, they decided to stay in the United States. They have always made a point to visit France as often as they can with the whole family in tow.
When Nichols spoke of her European travel experiences, she framed each story around a meal. She explained that each meal had several courses that would be eaten slowly and thoughtfully, often finishing out the meal with her favorite part, a charcuterie tray. They sat together long past the final course and simply enjoyed each other’s company as they shared stories and time. This was incredibly different from her experience with American culture, where everything is fast-paced and convenience based.
After being swept away to the French countryside as she wove together pictures of experiential dining, it wasn’t surprising when Nichols shared that she has always wanted to be involved in the food service industry. She fondly remembers trying her hand at entrepreneurship from a young age. The TLC hit show, “Cake Boss”, captured her attention at only 8 years old and inspired her to pursue baking. When she moved to Treynor, Iowa in 6th grade she continued perfecting her skills and began selling her baked goods at the local farmer’s market.
In 2021, Nichols began pursuing her undergraduate degree at Iowa State University in hospitality management. She knew she didn’t want to simply work at a restaurant. “I’ve worked at other restaurants, and it’s fun, I enjoy it. But there’s not a lot of creative freedom.” Her end goal was always the same: to start her own restaurant.
As she began laying out her plans, her passion for travel and French cuisine fell into alignment. She knew she didn’t want to settle in one location. So she pivoted (as entrepreneurs are known to do) from the restaurant idea and decided a food truck would provide her the flexibility she desired. She came up with the idea of selling sweet and savory crepes on the go. In the spring of 2023, she participated in the College-by-College Pitch Off where she gained more confidence in her idea.
To keep the momentum going, she applied to the CYstarters program and was selected to pursue her idea for C’est la Crepe: a food trailer where she will sell sweet and savory French crepes. She was thrilled about the culinary journey ahead more confident than ever in her decision to set out as an entrepreneur.
Nichols has spent the last 8 weeks in CYstarters learning about many new facets of business. Customer discovery was the focus of one educational session that she found to be incredibly beneficial. With this new information, she feels more equipped to identify, understand, and engage her target market. With encouragement from her mentors and cohort, Nichols has stepped out of her comfort zone to talk to people at markets, share her ideas, and get feedback on her product. Her biggest takeaway has been connecting with peers that are interested in entrepreneurship and innovation, just like her. “To hear other people’s stories and lean on my cohort because they understand what I’m going through as an entrepreneur has been huge.”
She recently connected with the SBDC which played a significant role in helping her obtain a temporary food service permit and the appropriate licensing she needed to operate her business. Her most recent event, a pop-up at the Iowa State University Research Park, went off without a hitch. She sold out of her crepes and has had the same success at several other markets this summer. Nichols recently purchased her very own trailer, getting her even closer to a fully-functional operation.
Nichols hopes to have her trailer up and running by August 19th and to be stationed on Welch Avenue in Ames to provide college students with late-night eats. She is in contact with several local wineries, breweries, and farmers markets to host pop-up events this fall, so be on the lookout for details! Learn about upcoming events by following C’est la Crepe on Instagram and Facebook. Let’s support another great Iowa State student entrepreneur by going to C’est la Crepe pop-up events, connecting her with local businesses, and sharing Mia’s business with the community.