Erika Bazaldua Holland interviews Candace Nelson, serial entrepreneur, “Shark Tank” guest Shark and Sprinkles Cupcakes founder.

Erika Bazaldua Holland (left), a 2014 SFA mass media graduate who anchors KLTV’s “East Texas News” at midday and 5 p.m., interviews Candace Nelson, serial entrepreneur, “Shark Tank” guest Shark and Sprinkles Cupcakes founder, for the fourth installment of Stephen F. Austin State University’s Nelson Rusche Distinguished Lecture Series March 26.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Candace Nelson, guest Shark for ABC’s “Shark Tank” and founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes and Pizzana, served as the speaker for the fourth installment of Stephen F. Austin State University’s Nelson Rusche Distinguished Lecture Series, which took place March 26.

The series, hosted by SFA’s Rusche College of Business, is designed to bring scholars and business leaders to SFA's campus to discuss timely issues and educate the next generation of business leaders while enriching the SFA and Nacogdoches communities.

“Candace Nelson is a proven leader who can show our students how to be successful,” said Dr. Tim Bisping, dean of the Ruche College of Business. “And these are the types of events that our college wants to continue to support as we work with our Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship to build relationships and help spark that entrepreneurial spirit across campus and the community.”

Before the public portion of the evening, Nelson spoke with a select group of business students and answered their questions about starting their own companies and pitching their ideas effectively.

“Candace was engaged and open with the students in answering all of their questions,” said Dr. Raymond Jones, director of SFA’s entrepreneurship program. “Students were inspired by Candace’s willingness to pivot her entire career and take the risk to follow her passion.”

Nelson’s next stop was the inaugural Sprinkles Showdown baked goods contest hosted by SFA’s Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship and organized by students in Jones’ “Entrepreneurship: Opportunity Assessment” course.

“She stopped and conversed with each of the nearly 30 student contestants,” Jones said. “Hearing encouragement from a successful entrepreneur doing what she wants to do is something they will not soon forget.”

The center presented more than $12,000 in scholarships to the Sprinkles Showdown participants.

“We were inspired by you,” Matthew Smilor, director of the center, told participating students. “It’s not easy to start something from scratch, whisk it up and then pitch your idea to judges and your classmates. We’re investors in your future.”

After a VIP reception spent signing her book, “Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe to Turn your Passion into Profit,” Nelson settled into a chair on the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom stage to be interviewed by Erika Bazaldua Holland, a 2014 SFA mass media graduate who anchors KLTV’s “East Texas News” at midday and 5 p.m. A loyal member of the ABC family, Holland first asked about “Shark Tank.” 

“What you see on TV is very much what we’re experiencing,” said Nelson, an investor in other businesses. “There is no room to be polite on ‘Shark Tank.’ You’re working with your own money.”

To pitch successfully, she explained to the crowd, entrepreneurs need to nail the confidence and tell a great story.

However, confidence wasn’t always easy for Nelson, who decided to go to pastry school after being laid off from her job as an investment banker at a tech company when the dot-com bubble burst. Some family members and friends had doubts about Nelson’s pastry pursuit.

“And I had my own self-limiting beliefs, like ‘Who am I to be an entrepreneur?’” Nelson said. “But I decided I’d rather fall flat on my face than regret not taking this risk for the rest of my life.”

She found a partner — her husband, Charles, also an investment banker initially — and she developed the right mindset to become an entrepreneur and start a business. 

The Nelsons began “embracing the crazy ideas.” More importantly, they took action on those ideas. In 2005, they opened their first Sprinkles in a 600-square-foot store in Beverly Hills. 

Success really hit the Nelsons when eight months after they opened Sprinkles, Oprah Winfrey called asking them to deliver 350 cupcakes for her show’s audience in Chicago by 5 a.m. the next morning.

“Oprah validated the idea we had risked everything for,” Nelson said. “After she gave us a good review, we had people calling from all over the world ordering cupcakes.”

Nelson said she and her husband talk business at the dinner table to help their two sons develop entrepreneurial mindsets. 

“We have inoculated our sons against the fear of failure,” she said. “If you’re not afraid of failure, you’re pretty unstoppable.”

Holland ended the interview by asking Nelson for her best advice for SFA students looking to be entrepreneurs.

“Dream big but start small,” Nelson said. “There’s a notion that entrepreneurship is so risky, but it should be much more of a calculated risk. I tested my cupcakes out of my apartment first. Before you put it all on the line, test it on a small scale.”

Look for Nelson as a guest Shark on the season 15 finale of ABC’s “Shark Tank” airing May 3 and as an executive producer for Netflix’s “Sugar Rush” and Hulu’s “Best in Dough.”

To learn more about SFA’s entrepreneurial academic program, visit the Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship website.

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website.