Judy Lu’s big business idea was inspired by a dare.
One evening, after an afternoon spent battling Toronto gridlock while taking her daughter to a play group across town, Lu (EMBA ’16) reflected on the limited options for children’s activities in her neighbourhood.
Half-teasing, her husband egged her on.
“You have an MBA,” he reminded her. “Why don’t you put it to use and fix the problem?”
Not one to resist a challenge, she did.
Today, Lu and her supportive but still-stunned husband own and operate Buds and Blossoms — Happy Parents Happy Kids, a thriving children’s play centre in Cabbagetown, a central Toronto neighbourhood. In less than two years, the centre has become a fixture in the community — thanks to Lu’s affinity for solving problems and her eagerness to apply her business knowledge.
How she built it: putting her MBA to use
Lu, who is a corporate planner by training, couldn’t have mapped out her time at Rotman and subsequent transition to entrepreneurship better.
She was originally drawn to the School after accepting a new role with the national accounting firm MNP as an events manager. The position was a promotion for Lu, and it meant having to design and build the organization’s events strategy from scratch. Though she had years of experience working in events and corporate planning, a manager suggested that Lu consider completing an MBA program to round out her qualifications.
“Initially, given my years of experience and already-demanding work and home life, I was quick to dismiss the idea of going back to school,” recalls Lu, who was also a new mother at the time.
“The more I thought about it, I saw how having a good education, especially from a well-known business school, could benefit me in my current work and future projects.”
Lu set out to pursue the One-Year Executive MBA at Rotman. The intensive year was a whirlwind of school, work and family: she acquired a high-level grasp of economics, accounting, strategy and marketing, which she could readily apply on the job. At the same time, she was expecting her second child during the program; Lu’s daughter was born on convocation day.
“The Executive MBA program teaches you how to stay focused on your vision.”
—Judy Lu, EMBA ’16
Perhaps it was the year spent balancing business school, planning work and child care that put Lu in the right frame of mind to conceive the idea for Buds and Blossoms. After her initial conversation with her husband, which occurred just six months after her graduation, Lu realized that the lack of child care options in her community was a problem she could actually solve. More than that, she wanted to deliver quality educational programming for kids, something that was missing from the neighborhood.
With the MBA curriculum fresh in her mind and still on maternity leave, she worked through the winter holidays on a strategy.
“The program really set me up for the work ahead, from completing the feasibility study to putting together income statements,” she explains.
Lu believes that the program is designed for any leader who wants to take on a new venture.
“Most importantly, the Executive MBA program teaches you how to stay focused on your vision.”
Within a month, Lu had a complete business plan. Her husband conceded that she’d successfully followed through on his dare and supported her vision from the sidelines.
Things happened rapidly. Within months, she had secured a lease, renovated a commercial space and hired a staff of eleven, who now coordinate and lead dance, cooking, singing and French-language programming. While all this was happening, the demand was growing.
“Residents were emailing me before we even secured our licences, before the space was anywhere near ready,” she recalls. “I knew we had hit on a great idea.”
One year after making her business plan, Buds and Blossoms was open for business.
Keeping one eye on the future
Since they opened the doors, the centre has steadily grown, and it even started to break even within their first year.
“The best part has been working with kids and teaching them something very valuable when they’re here,” says Lu.
Still, there hasn’t been too much of a break for Lu. Nowadays, she is at Buds and Blossoms three days a week — she’s worked out a part-time work arrangement with MNP and her kids often come with her to take part in the programming.
“I’m always thinking about the long-term plan and where we are headed,” says Lu, who is currently thinking through how Buds and Blossoms might expand.
Surprisingly, Lu’s plans for Buds and Blossoms don’t necessarily include her.
“My goal is not to be there. When business stabilizes, I can let my amazing staff take care of it,” she says.
“Plus I’ve always liked building something new. Stepping away will free up time to start something else.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »