Maira Choudhary and Renata Rowland: College Students Turned Co-Founders
Maira Choudhary, 20, and Renata Rowland, 21, were questioned on more than one occasion by customers who did not believe that these two female college students are the founders of Brooklyn’s latest holiday pop-up experience, Sugar & Spice.
After seeing the trend of interactive art installations (think pop-ups like CandyTopia and The Ice Cream Museum), entrepreneurship students Maira and Renata decided they wanted to capitalize on the latest craze when they realized that a holiday-themed pop-up had not been done yet. Their pop-up is a real-life Winter Wonderland made for those who love the spirit of the holidays- no matter what they celebrate.
Maira was born in Lahore, Pakistan and grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, while Renata was born in raised in Buffalo, New York. The two met (fittingly) in an entrepreneurship class during the spring of 2018. This past summer, they happened to run into each other out of the blue and stopped to catch up. The conversation turned to their summer internships. They both felt that they wanted to do something entrepreneurial as they moved towards graduation. Having attended a few pop-ups in the city, Maira had wanted to create her own for some time. Renata was intrigued by the idea and they immediately started brainstorming. Within a week, they had their website up and had invested their own money to bring the magic to life. They officially opened for business in the last week of November and will run for the full month of December.
Though the two are seeing instant success, welcoming visitors to the pop-up who are Brooklyn locals and tourists alike, they admit that it has been hard being young women founders. Initially, people were constantly referring to the business owners as ‘girls.’ Certain people- from their landlord to their banker- oftentimes did not take them or their business seriously.
Maira and Renata have not let anyone’s opinion get them down, have stayed assertive, and have proven how serious they can be. They say that eventually people really appreciate the fact that the two are, in fact, the business’s owners and that they did this all on our own with their own funds. Others have been delighted and inspired by their story of being college students turned entrepreneurs, which has filled the pair with happiness and pride.
I had the opportunity to experience the pop-up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn myself and stuck around- after many pictures and Instagram stories of the space- to chat with Maira and Renata about their journey launching Sugar and Spice.
Maura Sheedy: What is it like starting a business with a friend who turns into your business partner? What are the pros and cons?
Maira Choudhary: I honestly feel like starting our first business together has provided us with so many opportunities of comfort. This whole process has been incredible and it’s amazing and truly a blessing to have a partner who is a ride or die with you in the process. She is strong in the areas that I am weak, and vice versa and we complement each other very well. Luckily for us, we understand each other and know how to work with each other, and that is a HUGE pro. We have grown closer through this process and learned so much together.
Renata Rowland: I personally have loved the process, it’s really brought me out of my comfort zone because I’m typically a very individualistic person. It’s almost felt like developing a sister because of how close we’ve gotten, which happens when you spend almost every single day together or talking for 3+ months. I’m glad we’ve been able to find strength in each other and keep each other on track.
Maura: How would you describe the other?
Maira: Renata is bold, extremely smart, and emotionally aware. She is knowledgeable about so many different topics and this has been a huge plus for us in this business. She is very direct and pragmatic and this is an area where we both relate to each other so well. It’s almost like we both speak the same language; we literally find ourselves saying the exact same things at the exact same times.
Renata: Maira has an extremely creative mind- she was the one who had the idea for a pop-up to begin with! She’s also very direct when she communicates which combines well with my pragmatic personality. More than anything, she is one of the most loyal people I’ve ever met. Once you have a friend like her, you know she will remain in your heart forever.
Maura: What has been the biggest challenge of starting your business?
Maira: There have been a few. I feel like every day, something new happens. Initially, it was finding a place to rent, then it turned out to be setting up our ticketing, then it turned into all of our decorations getting damaged overnight before moving in. Every day, there is a new challenge and it truly feels like they get bigger over time. At the same time, we keep getting stronger and are able to face these challenges with a bigger heart and a stronger mind.
Renata: For me, it’s definitely been developing an extreme level of discipline. I truly believe that if I wouldn’t have gone through this experience, I never would have become the person I am now. Putting yourself in a situation that demands so much of you forces you to either adapt or leave. I’ve developed an amazing set of habits and rituals now that make me able to do all that I do: balancing being a full-time college student, living on my own, practicing personal self-care, and now being a business owner!
Maura: What advice do you have for young women who are starting a business (perhaps relating to women specifically or young people in general?)
Maira: Believe in yourself. You need to be your biggest fan. In the moments of self-doubt, you need to realize that YOU control your destiny. Think positive thoughts, because they do actualize. Listen to motivational speeches. Stay true to yourself. Realize that you can’t trust everyone, but also realize that kindness from strangers still exists and can go a long way.
Renata: If you master yourself, you can master anything. I meditate daily, work out, and have a fairly strict routine I follow to keep myself on track. There were a number of extremely difficult challenges that we faced, and despite the tears or pain, we simply had no choice but to carry on, and developing an inner peace was essential to that. Understand that you’re doing the best you can, everyone gets imposter syndrome sometimes, and most of all: USE TO-DO LISTS!