How a girl with Down syndrome launched a startup and earned more than $5 million in 1,2 years
At the age of 26, Collette DiVitto graduated from Clemson University. She moved to Boston hoping to work and live on her own, but hiring managers kept telling her she wasn't "the right fit." How Collette didn’t give up and opened a business worth a million, the publication told CNBC.
“I was ready to be on my own,” says DiVitto, now 31. “But I couldn’t find a job.”
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, DiVitto, who was born with the genetic condition Down syndrome, quietly dreamed of turning her passion for baking into her own business. She found the process intimidating, so her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, decided to teach her daughter the basics of starting and running a small business.
Today, DiVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey's Cookies, a fast-growing bakery that sells cookies online at 7-Eleven stores and the TD Garden sports arena in Boston. According to CNBC Make It estimates, which were confirmed by the company, since its launch in December 2016, its total revenue has been $1,2 million.
According to representatives of Collettey's Cookies, they are a profitable company, which is important in the complex food industry.
She has 15 employees, many of whom are also disabled, which DiVitto says is intentional: a difficult job market is a sad reality for most adults with disabilities in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 2020% of people with disabilities were employed in 17,9.
DiVitto strives to personally train his employees with disabilities.
She admitted: “Creating more jobs for such people is my task. This is my whole mission."
Recipe for starting a small business
Entrepreneurship runs in the DiVitto family.
Her maternal grandfather owned a small landscaping business. Today, Alfredo and her siblings own several businesses.
“We're all brash and stubborn to some degree,” says mother Collette, who considers both qualities valuable when working for yourself and constantly having to make big decisions.
Alfredo's first step in teaching his daughter entrepreneurship was walking DiVitto through the logistical steps of determining the legal structure, registering the business, designing a logo and creating a website. Then Collette, who has been baking since she was four, brought samples of her cinnamon chocolate chip cookies to her local Boston store, Golden Goose Market.
Perhaps she was lucky or the desserts were very tasty, or perhaps both: the store owner, intrigued, ordered 100 packages of 12 cookies.
“We would buy 40-pound (18 kg) bags of flour, bring them into the apartment and think: my God, what should we do with this next?” Alfredo recalls.
“I was very scared at the beginning,” DiVitto adds. But making the deal, she said, made her feel “amazing and confident.” “I have never, never felt like this in my life.”
The following week, she secured space in a commercial kitchen, allowing DiVitto to expand her cookie production space. In total, Alfredo said it cost "less than $20" to open the business, with most of that going toward kitchen rent.
And then, Alfredo noted, DiVitto's story "went viral."
In the first three months of operation, Collettey's Cookies sold 4000 cookies, and since opening, more than 550. Collettey's Cookies has more than 000 followers on Facebook and another 40 on Instagram.
DiVitto's Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cookies, dubbed "Amazing Cookies," remain the most popular of the company's five flavor options, according to the company.
Providing assistance to budding entrepreneurs
When it comes to developing recipes and baking cookies, DiVitto serves as an expert and authority.
“My mom and her family don’t know anything about baking,” Collette says. She works in a commercial kitchen six days a week, often starting work at 04:00.
Most of the work on developing the company fell on her shoulders. Alfredo says Collettey's Cookies never received outside funding, although it didn't try: "That was our biggest problem: People doubted DiVitto's abilities and the potential success of the company with her as CEO and COO."
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Nadia Russo, founder and CEO of marketing and PR company Alter New Media, attributes DiVitto's success to a combination of ambition and straightforward candor. She believes these factors are what attracted her to volunteering with Collettey's Cookies earlier this year.
“I was just amazed at how sincere and straightforward Collette was,” Russo explained. “She always speaks her truth.”
This extends beyond the cookies: In 2018, DiVitto and Alfredo founded a nonprofit called Collettey's Leadership Programs, which conducts workshops and offers mentoring services for people with and without disabilities.
In August 2021, Collette starred in the Peacock channel's reality project about entrepreneurs with disabilities, Born to Business. She is the author of a children's book based on her own life, Collette in Kindergarten, which was published last year.
Looking to the future, DiVitto says he wants to create more jobs and give "people with disabilities the opportunity to feel good about themselves and earn money to live independently."
“No matter what, you can change this world for the better,” she believes.
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