Vicky Mariano is a teen with a realized vision: Spiritual Haze. This ambitious teen created this business with the purpose of giving teens a safe and relaxing place to hang out. What started with a simple idea has evolved into something much more. Find out how this teen made a difference in her community. Then consider how you can make a difference in your town too.
What gave you the idea to begin your café, Spiritual Haze?
There is a mix of things that sparked the main idea of Spiritual Haze. Most importantly, it was the high number of younger people abusing drugs and alcohol consistently, and the problems caused by it. I also noticed high numbers of younger people being stressed and depressed, and a lack of places for them to relax and socialize in a friendly and comfortable environment. All of these observations led to wanting to create a community venue where younger people could always go to de-stress and meet friends in a familiar and inviting place. I also thought it was important to make sure that the events and the community would create the goings on in that venue. I created the products and services aspect in order to sustain the business side of Spiritual Haze and to add to the atmosphere.
Who were the people that you wanted to help?
Mainly I wanted to help younger adults who feel stressed or depressed, or have drug and alcohol abuse problems; I wanted to give them a safe and inviting place to spend time. Additionally, we have entertainment and an art gallery so I also reach out to local artists and bands in order to help get their name out and sell their works.
How were you able to help them?
I'm proud to be able to give young adults a place to come and de-stress, relax, and socialize in a drug-free environment. It's fulfilling when people leave with a smile on their faces, and then thank us for being open. I hope that a positive experience will make them happy the rest of the night and they'll be more motivated for work or school the next day.
I think it's a positive experience for the artists as well because they are able to sell their CDs or art pieces, reach audiences, and learn about the process of booking shows and art gallery space.
How did you put your plan in motion?
I opened Spiritual Haze by working hard and putting a lot of time into it for about a year straight. First I found partners, and we worked together to shape the business plan and our ideas, then we had to figure out all the licensing and legal requirements as well as discussing a desirable location and finding a building we could use. After we found a location, we had to search for funding and find suppliers.
Did you have any help or a mentor?
I had lots of help! Because Spiritual Haze is a social venture, we had to keep start up costs as low as possible - I never could have opened without all help I received. If my costs had be higher and less people had donated their time, I would have had to raise the prices and make the focus of the business less social and more economical, just to stay open.
The biggest source of support for me through the planning and opening stage was Clark University's Innovation and Entrepreneurship program in Worcester, Mass. My curriculum within the program included a capstone class, where I found partners, advice, and resources to help me, as well as a solid word-of-mouth network. Professor George Gendron was a big mentor for me through the whole process, and I'm thankful to him and my classmates for all of their support.
What was the most difficult thing about starting and running the café?
The start-up was the hardest; you have to balance about 100 things at once in order to open, and timing is difficult. You have to know everything and have a solid plan in order to get any funding, and you have to have funding to get anything else. Right before grand opening night, I hadn't slept for 3 days straight in order to get everything ready for the city to approve the opening.
What is the most rewarding thing about your café?
The most rewarding thing is to come in to Spiritual Haze and see people happy and having fun, and having them tell me how appreciative they are that we opened. Also, we have a large number of regular customers, which is a huge satisfaction. I know we're doing something right!
If another teen wanted to do something like this, how should they go about it?
First and most importantly, you have to be passionate about the idea! Secondly, research permit requirements and licensing information in your city or town, specific to what you want to do. Then develop an in-depth business plan to make sure you have all the bases covered. Lastly, you can finally start acting on it! I recommend that young social entrepreneurs make sure they have a strong support system, like the one I had at the Clark Innovation & Entrepreneurship program; it can really help!
Will you continue to run the café, or turn it over to someone else?
I always hope to be part owner, because I love and feel a connection to the place. As soon as I get it to where I want it, I will have a manager run it so I can focus on new ideas. But when the time for expansion comes, I will handle that personally because it is such an exciting prospect for me.
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