CYstarters Spotlight: Friest Designs

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.

Sydney Friest (22) is the perfect blend of creative and analytical. At a young age, Friest and her brother decided to craft holiday gift bows using her very own ribbon machine. They hoped to make a few sales with the meticulous effort they put into each gift topper. During the 2000s, Friest knew there was no better place to set up shop as a kid than in your living room during a Pampered Chef party hosted by your mom for 50 of her closest friends. It’s safe to say the bows were a hit.

After her great success, Friest knew she would pursue other creative endeavors. Over the years, she has fallen in love with landscape and nature photography. She practiced her craft growing up as she road-tripped to different U.S. national parks (her favorite being Yellowstone) with her family. Today, she has been to 22 national parks and is still passionate about photography.

Four years ago, she stumbled upon the art of brush lettering. It wasn’t until 2020, as she tried to stay occupied during the global lockdown, that she decided to really try her hand at this new kind of calligraphy. As a gift for her mom, she set to work designing a sign featuring her favorite quote, “Let whatever you do today be enough.” Her mom posted photos of the sign all over Facebook, and what came next was a slew of custom signs and personalized gift requests, pop-up event appearances, and a growing passion for brush lettering.

On September 1, 2022, having long since transitioned out of the bow-making business, Sydney launched Friest Designs: a creative business here to brighten your day with custom and signature stickers, stationery, signage, and gifts. Each gift item features Friest’s signature lettering style (developed and perfected over the past four years) and bright illustrations. It brings her joy to create items that make people smile and feel deeply seen.

Notepads, stickers, and greeting cards featuring designs by Friest are available for purchase at

Friest jumped headfirst into her business. Since launching Friest Designs, she has sold her products at markets across Iowa, and offers custom calligraphy at local events. In April 2023, she was a part of Admitted Student Day at ISU where she met potential students and hand-lettered their Certificate of Intent to attend ISU. Although on-site calligraphy can be incredibly intimidating with a crowd of observers, Friest knows she is her own worst critic and that each student walked away with a beautiful design that made them excited about coming to Ames in the fall.

Friest posing with a selection of greeting cards she designed for a local market.

This summer, Friest was selected to be part of the CYstarters 2023 cohort and has made huge strides in the development of Friest Designs. Friest is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and as a product-based business, this can often slow down her momentum in producing designs. She cares deeply about providing high quality products to the community, so she does extensive research and testing to find the perfect materials for each product. The CYstarters program has helped her to prioritize the other aspects of her business, such as pricing and customer discovery. Through the many hours of educational sessions provided by the program, she has been able to create a thorough blueprint for the future of Friest Designs and feels confident in the next steps for her business.

With a few great wins under her belt, Friest is excited about the future. “I’m learning which markets have the right audience and right market for me. That’s been a big learning process,” she said as she shared the long list of markets she will be participating in this year. She set a goal of increasing sales at markets this summer by 20% and has exceeded that goal by doubling her sales. She recently finalized a website for Friest Designs and is exploring opportunities for in-person calligraphy workshops. She is most excited about launching a new line of notepads. She hopes to reach students with this product as they get organized for the fall semester and is developing 10 unique designs to offer.

The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship has provided Friest resources and support that are unmatched anywhere else on campus. She has been surrounded by an incredible community of like-minded individuals this summer and hopes to stay connected as they leave CYstarters and take their businesses out into the world. As she expressed gratitude for the CYstarters program, she touched on the necessity for more women to be involved.

You can find Friest at the Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market on August 6th. Head to her website for additional event dates in August and September. Outside of these local events, you can shop Friest designs in Innovate 1858 on the Iowa State University campus, and in-store at DK Quality Goods and Tiny Joy Creations.


We can continue to support Friest by shopping for her goods on Etsy, following her on Instagram, and learning about upcoming events on her Facebook page.