NOMsense Bakery is ready to put Penn in a food coma.
One year since its launch, NOMsense Bakery — which specializes in decadent cookie sandwiches — is no longer a justhobby three undergraduate students are passionate about. The cookie sandwich business has concrete plans to serve Penn students.
“We didn’t set out to start a business but wanted to share our philosophy of dessert with everyone on campus,” College junior and a co-founder of NOMsense Rachel Stewart said. The three co-founders, College junior Alina Wong, Wharton junior Roopa Shankar and Stewart used to bake for fun, but positive feedback from their friends and hall mates encouraged them to think twice about their hobby.
“There really wasn’t anything on campus that was offering the same thing,” Shankar said. “We thought ‘Is there a way we can turn our passion into business?’”
Each cookie sandwich has a distinct cookie, filling, crumble and drizzle, which gives them a lot of flexibility when coming up with new flavors. Last semesters’ offerings included chocolate marshmallow, lemon funfetti and matcha crunch.
“There are a lot of different components that we can play around with that as a whole is something we have never seen before,” Shankar said.
In order to create new flavors a wide range of consumers would like, NOMsense follows the trend in the dessert market and also uses focus groups, which helped them introduce their matcha flavor.
“Our goal for this semester is to sell wholesales to outlets at Penn,” Wong said. She said they aim to place their cookie sandwiches in Gourmet Grocer, Houston Market and at other on-campus retail spots. They are also hoping to become a vendor in Penn’s purchase order system so that they can cater for student organization events.
As soon as the co-founders decided to start their food business, they reached out to Joshua White, the owner of White + Wong Bakery and 2013 Wharton MBA graduate who also started his cookie business at Penn. Although Shankar said they did not expect him to reply back, White has provided a lot of guidance in terms of financial, legal and insurance procedures.
“He really knows the ins and outs of creating a cookie business on campus,” Wong said.
“[NOMsense] had a lot of questions as far as how to proceed with the food business,” White said. He added that while his previous work experience in investment banking and private equity helped him deal with legal and financial aspects of starting his business, since the NOMsense co-founders are undergraduates, they would have less experience in these domains.
“He was so open and I think it goes back to the whole idea of Penn being entrepreneurial and fostering the environment,” Shankar said.
NOMsense is hoping to give back to the Penn community as a whole by offering a preceptorial this semester, “Nom with NOMsense Bakery: A Workshop on Food Entrepreneurship.” In this this seminar, the co-founders will tell their start-up story and talk to others interested in starting their own business.
College senior Charity Migwi, a preceptorial committee member who organized the NOMsense preceptorial, said her interest in entrepreneurial communities on campus led her to create this opportunity.
“It’s a chance for them to talk about their experience of being entrepreneurs as students,” she said.
Migwi added that food preceptorials are very popular in general, and over 150 students signed up for NOMsense’s. She said it is also her first time having undergraduate students lead a preceptorial.
“We want to be able to teach Penn students about NOMsense and make them a part of our journey,” Wong said.
All three co-founders are full-time students, and while juggling academics and extracurricular activities, they still find time for NOMsense.
“We knew from the start that it would be our priority,” Shankar said.
The three co-founders first invested their personal money in starting the business, but as expansion incurred higher costs, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to cover legal expenses.
For Franklin Shen, Penn was also the place to launch his hub for sweet treats. Shen is the co-founder of Sugar Philly, which brings macarons of flavors ranging from green tea to chocolate hazelnut to campus.
“The great thing about Penn’s campus is that people are open to new ideas and want to try something new,” Shen said.
He added that social media plays a huge role in getting the name out and creating a visual experience especially through Facebook and Instagram.
The NOMsense co-founders agreed, saying that their growth started through social media. After launching its Facebook page, NOMsense started a “World of NOM” campaign where it posted photos of customers’ reactions after buying cookie sandwiches. Tagging these people, Shankar said, helped spread the word about the business.
While they are looking to establish NOMsense as a certified food business, Wong, Shankar and Stewart are still considering careers outside of NOMsense.
“We’re considering pursuing other things right after we graduate, maybe getting some other experiences,” Stewart said. She added that even if they postpone NOMsense post-graduation, the long-term plan is to get back to baking a few years out.
Regardless of how long NOMsense continues its presence on campus, Shen said having the “Penn background” makes them part of the “Penn family.” “There’s some sort of comradery or network that happens,” he said.
“We are happy to see more and more dessert come to the Penn community.”
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