Mixing it up: Award-winning student runs own bakery business

BENSON, N.C. (WTVD) -- With all the ingredients for success, a student running her own bakery business while balancing academics and extracurriculars graduates from West Johnston High School.

Nicole Neal not only makes an effort as an involved student and athlete but also operates her four-figure business Homemade Nicole, baking cupcakes, cakes, pies and other sweet treats out of her kitchen.

"I think it's important to find something that's gonna express how you are," Neal said. "And I think finding baking really helped me. Even though it's a stressor, it's a good stress in a sense, because at the end of the day. I'm doing something I really like and I'm doing it well. And other people's validation is fine, but knowing I did this -- I made that amazing cake - It helps at the end of the day."

As a young child, Neal developed a love for baking with her late cousin. Following her passing, friends of Neal's cousin gifted her with the KitchenAid mixer they would use while baking together.

Upon receiving the special mixer, Neal recalls immediately begging her mother to get her ingredients to make her own cake. Though she admitted the first attempt became "the worst cake ever," her baking skills continued to grow, as did her business savvy.

Originally starting her business around the age of 12, Neal said taking business classes helped her build a stronger business than when she began.

"Honestly, I didn't even have a plan. I just started selling it," Neal said. "And then once I got older and I realized with all the business classes I took, 'OK, you need a market. You need to have prices that you're actually going to make money.'"

When not serving delicious baked goods, Neal serves as vice president of West Johnston High's chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and as president of her school's chapter of DECA, all while taking honors and Advanced Placement classes.

Neal captains her school's tennis team and participates in track. She is also active in her church.

Neal received an FBLA award in the Business Financial Plan division for her working business plan on Homemade Nicole. In June, she will participate in the National FBLA Leadership Conference in Chicago

Heading to North Carolina A&T State University in the fall, Neal will study mass communication and journalism. She hopes to continue baking and keeping her business running when she can.

"After college, I do want to be a journalist or a filmmaker or something like that," Neal said. But at the end of the day, I'm going to have my bakery one day. I'm going to have my own doors to open up and for everyone to come."
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