CYstarters Spotlight: FLY 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.

Denzel Decker (19) is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Growing up, he often sold or traded his lunch for a meal upgrade. More notably, he became an expert baker, making cupcakes in his hometown of Waukon, Iowa. Decker’s most recent entrepreneurial pursuit is one that is near to his heart and has been shaped by his personal struggle with mental health. Decker is spreading positivity and promoting the conversation around mental health through his clothing line, FLY Designs.

Decker Delish

In 2016, Decker was asked to bake cupcakes for his family’s garage sale. But Decker’s sugary treats were not run-of-the-mill. He embedded rich flavors and delicious fillings into each masterpiece. The baked goods were such a hit that he decided to pursue it as a business. Decker Delish was founded, and for a total of seven years, Decker baked cupcakes for his community.

In 2018, two years after starting the business, Decker was invited to the NIACC Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship to attend the Youth Entrepreneurial Academy. YEA is a week-long event for high school students interested in starting a business. He walked away from his first great experience with a Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center by winning $500.

Decker shaking hands with John Pappajohn after receiving the Student Entrepreneur of the Year award from the NIACC Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship in 2018.

Later that year, he was invited to a gala put on by the NIACC center where he was named Student Entrepreneur of the Year. The incredible honor was accompanied by the opportunity to meet the late John Pappajohn. “I really appreciate the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. That camp and meeting John Pappajohn is what initially elevated my business and pushed me to pursue it further,” said Decker, explaining how this opportunity upleveled his entrepreneurial efforts.

The journey towards acceptance

Decker began his freshman year at Iowa State University in 2022. He is currently studying apparel merchandising and design with an emphasis on retail analytics. Until the summer of 2023, Decker spent the majority of his free time in his hometown fulfilling cupcake orders. But he started to grow weary of the commute and as many college students do, he was seeing a significant decline in his mental health.

As the year went on, it became increasingly difficult to navigate the stress and anxiety he was experiencing. But a class assignment he received in February of 2023 provided him a new perspective on how to approach his mental health.

Decker was asked to design a simple logo for a clothing brand. A brand that he might actually like to develop in the future. As he considered the project, he focused on his own experience and discovered that today, more than one in five U.S. adults suffer from a mental illness. Decker realized that he was far from alone on his journey and wanted to raise awareness of this reality with his brand.

The brand he created is called FLY Designs. The acronym FLY stands for “freely love yourself” and is accompanied by a butterfly illustration that represents a positive transformation in one’s mental state. The concept of this brand led him to find acceptance in his own story of mental illness.

Decker’s mother, who has always been his biggest supporter, pushed him to turn his idea into a business. He didn’t know where to start, but thankfully, his mother stayed up to date on entrepreneurship opportunities and suggested connecting with the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. After learning about the CYstarters program, he put together a pitch and was later accepted into cohort 8.

While participating in the 11-week summer program, Decker solidified his mission, designed products, and is currently selling his designs online. The first FLY collection includes t-shirts, stickers, and art prints. The suicide crisis hotline is printed inside every shirt, and each order includes a card listing mental health statistics and resources. The FLY Designs mission is to destigmatize the conversation around mental health through affirmational clothing and home goods. “I don’t want anyone else to feel as lost and helpless as I did,” said Decker.Decker jumped in head-first, with little to no business or retail experience. His first instinct was to quickly order product and start selling, but his CYstarters mentors helped him prioritize the beginning aspects of starting a new business. “In CYstarters, I’ve faced challenges with my business, but I had no doubt that I would have someone to help me figure out any issue that came up,” said Decker, grateful to his peers, the JPEC team, and his community mentors. He made great progress while participating in the CYstarters program and walked away from the final pitch contest with a $1,000 scholarship to continue investing in FLY Designs.

Today, Decker has made over $800 in sales and is already seeing the positive impact his products have on the community. With hopes of one day moving into a brick-and-mortar store, he plans to continue the conversation on mental illness, give back to mental health organizations, and encourage other students to check out the entrepreneurship opportunities at Iowa State.

Congratulations to Decker on receiving CYstarters alumni status! As his entrepreneurial journey continues to unfold, we can support FLY Designs by following along on Instagram, Facebook, and purchasing products from