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Latina entrepreneur Tennille Ortiz empowers youth through cake design

Tennille Ortiz, owner and designer of The Ellinnet Cake Collection

Second-place winner of the Latinas SmallBiz Pitch Competition, Tennille Ortiz, is the owner and designer of The Ellinnet Cake Collection, a luxury custom cakes and confections boutique which offers bespoke custom cake designs for special events.  In addition to the boutique, The Ellinnet Cake Collection also offers a cupcake decorating service for birthday parties and other events on their chic and mobile bakery called The Cupcake Carriage.

Passionate about empowering children and inspiring them to leadership, Tennille is utilizing her position to bring opportunities to children, especially those from underserved communities. Though creative cake decorating and baking workshops, Tennille hopes to inspire a passion and drive in the youth and inspire them to follow their goals and dreams in life. 

From hobby to craft

Tennille found her own passion for cake-design toward the end of a seventeen year career in healthcare management. Always having been a creative spirit growing up, Tennille was drawn to cake-design as a fun hobby to pass the time during her maternity leave. She began by taking a few introduction classes at a local bakery. Here she learned the basics and focused on making birthday cakes for friends and family. 

She never intended for her little hobby to become anything more, however soon Tennille found herself spending hours of time reading up on and studying different baking and decorating techniques while also practicing her own baking and decorating skills. As her skills grew, Tennille became more interested in the art of cake design and desired to expand her knowledge even further. 

This is when she made the bold decision to leave her career in healthcare administration and enroll in professional cake-design courses with top New York City designers. These courses helped her master some more difficult techniques such as sugar sculpting, blown sugar art, and 3D sculpting, but still the majority of her craft was self-taught. 

Tennille at work creating one of her custom designer cakes.

From craft to business

A few years later, in 2013, Tennille founded The Ellinnet Cake Collection. The business quickly grew and she was sought out for her clean and sophisticated designs. Her cakes were unique and trendy, inspired by the latest fashions, which attracted a high end following of loyal clients and event planners.

Still, starting her own business came with its own set of challenges. At the same time, learning to navigate these obstacles became incredibly rewarding for Tennille and taught her much about herself and her strengths as a business owner. 

“I’ve learned a great deal about entrepreneurship and have realized what it takes to build a business,” she says. “I think one of my biggest struggles was realizing that it’s very hard to build and scale a business while still working ‘in’ it.” 

Like many new business owners, Tennille wanted to do it all herself. This spread her very thin and affected her business’ growth and her own health. 

“I learned that as much as I love cake design if I wanted a real business I had to let the craft go and focus more on building my business,” says Tennille. 

She has since hired a team to help her with her business and she is working on making The Ellinnet Cake Collection and The Cupcake Carriage a brand everyone will know. 

Another common struggle Tennille has faced is growing her business with very little capital. She soon learned the importance of budgeting and having a solid business plan. 

“We can easily get caught up in fast cash flow and think this is our win,” says Tennille. “What’s important is that every startup saves and put the money back into the business so that your able to grow. The money will come, you have to be patient.” 

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Finding success in giving back 

For a long time, Tennille did not feel successful, even when she had conquered her obstacles and was generating a steady growing revenue. She believed her success would be determined by numbers and reaching specific financial goals. 

It was the launch of The Cupcake Carriage that eventually changed her perspective. After three years of hard work, The Cupcake Carriage was finally launched in June of  2019 as a service to provide instruction on cake design and to help empower and educate young girls and boys, with each workshop designed to deliver a message that sparks leadership ideas. 

Tennille posing with The Cupcake Carriage

Tennille has always had an interest in teaching and empowering our youth and so The Cupcake Carriage seemed like the perfect way to give back to the community. Growing up in the inner city, Tennille witnessed first hand the challenges children face growing up under certain circumstances such as poverty, lack of a good education and mentors, or the lack of resources and tools needed to succeed. She remembers old friends she grew up with who unfortunately were murdered, turned to drugs, or went down the wrong path. 

“I was one of the fortunate ones who didn’t take that path but it’s because of that experience that I have developed a passion to give back to my community,” says Tennille. “My goal is to one day create a program that empowers young adults by teaching leadership skills and opens them up to the world of entrepreneurship.” 

The Cupcake Carriage is her first steps toward that goal. By engaging children in fun, creative activities, such as baking and decorating, Tennille hopes to plant the seeds of leadership in young children and show them that their dreams are possible. 

Since its launch, The Cupcake Carriage has been a success, generating a huge buzz of excitement which has it fully booked into March 2020. 

But Tennille did not recognize this success until a few months after the launch when she received an email notifying her that the largest package they offered had been purchased. 

Tennille aboard The Cupcake Carriage during empowering workshop

“I did a happy dance,” says Tennille. “I was so excited that everyone was receiving The Cupcake Carriage the way they were, that the concept was proven! But then I read the email.”

The email was from someone from Wagner Projects, with whom she had gone to school with and who was inspired by Tennille’s success. In the email her former classmate says:

“I have been waiting for The Cupcake Carriage to launch for 2 years now. I’m making a huge sacrifice in purchasing your largest package, not only because my daughter loves cake decorating but because I am excited to show her what a business owner from Wagner Projects looks like[…] I’m proud of you and your success. I can’t wait for my daughter to meet you.”

This message had an instant and profound affect on Tennille. She pulled over immediately and cried like a baby in her car. It was then that she realized she was truly successful. 

“Despite what people may think, success doesn’t come from money, it comes from serving, giving back, and living in your purpose,” says Tennille. “I met that little girl, and in her, I saw me–a little Latina full of dreams, able to see past her circumstances.”                                                                                                                                                                

New victories and successes  

Competing in this year’s Pitch Competition was the next step for the expansion of The Cupcake Carriage and The Ellinnet Cake Collection. Despite struggling with public speaking and presentations, Tennille decided to challenge herself for her business. And this challenge paid off, winning her second place in the competition. 

“I’m so happy I did!” she says. “Deciding to challenge myself helped me gain a great deal of exposure, a ticket to The Red Shoe Movement and a full scholarship to Rutgers Business Schools EPI Program for urban development! I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and proud that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.” 

Tennille plans to continue to grow her business and create a brand that not only brings smiles to every important milestone in people’s lives but will also empower children to dream big and be open to a world of possibilities of their own.

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Fatima Pearn received Latina Leader Award at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo

Fatima Pearn was honored with the Latina Leader Award at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo and Pitch Competition where she also participated as a guest judge. As the current VP Business Development Office at Valley Bank, Fatima has had a lengthy and successful career in banking. She has shown exemplary skills and has acted as a leader and mentor to others while contributing to the expansion and success of multiple banks throughout her 15+ years in the banking industry. Taking to the stage to accept her award, she shared some of her professional journey, inspiring those in the audience with her success story. 

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Fatima Pearn, Vally Bank, receives the Latina Leader Award from Susana G Baumann, Latinas in Business Inc.

Working up from the bottom

Fatima’s banking career began in 1989 at First Fidelity Bank where she worked in the Import and Export Department. After only two years, she put her own career on hold to help her husband at the time with his own business. The couple later divorced, leaving Fatima to support two young boys as a single mother. The four years that followed were difficult, with Fatima working multiple jobs to support her children. Then, in 2001, Fatima decided it was time to make a significant career change.  

“I needed to make a change in my life and start thinking about a new career,” says Fatima. “A career that would give my family and I better health benefits, and also allow me to contribute to a retirement plan.” 

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Fatima Pearn accepting the Latina Leader Award during the WINNERS Reception at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo

Fatima decided the best option would be to return to banking, since she already had some previous experience in the field. When an opportunity as a Teller opened up at PNC Bank, Fatima took a chance and applied. 

“I wanted to learn the retail banking industry from the bottom up,” she says. 

Never having pursued a formal higher education, Fatima gained all her expertise by learning on the job from mentors and taking specific courses and accreditations in her field. Beginning from the bottom helped Fatima quickly learn the ins and outs of the banking world and soon became a leader to others.  

New love and opportunities

During this same time, Fatima remarried to the love of her life. Her husband had two children of his own, and together they raised their four children before growing their family with another child together, a baby boy, who is now fourteen years old and a blessing to their lives. Fatima’s husband and their children gave her the drive to better herself and encouraged her to further grow her banking career.  

Soon Fatima was promoted from Teller to Financial Sales Consultant, and then in 2005 she was offered the opportunity to be a Business Development Officer by her Team Leader. This position put her in charge of five branches in Essex and Hudson County with book of business to grow. 

“My job was just to bring new business to the bank and close a minimum of $5 Million dollars in new money in lending, C&I, owner-occupied, Loc and Investment Real estate,” says Fatima. “The first question my Team Leader asked me was: Where do you think you are going to target new clients? I thought about it for a couple of days and got back to him with a plan.” 

Her plan involved three steps. First she did research on Reference USA. Then she reached out to her husband’s relative who was a fireman in Kearny at the time. She asked him if he could share a list of new businesses that opened in Kearny from January to that date. Lastly, she registered to be a member of the Kiwanis, Rotaries and the Chamber of Commerce in the area. This plan proved to be successful as one year later, Fatima was invited to be the Treasurer by the Portuguese American Chamber of Commerce in Newark.

“I also took private lessons to learn the basics on how to play golf in order to be able to participate on golf outings at the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce,” Fatima says. 

After a few months, she started showing great results in her position, and she worked with her retail partners and loan officers to have client appreciation days at their branches after work hours. These events made their clients feel appreciated which lead to the building of Center of Influences (COI’s) for the business.  

Conquering language barriers

Being a Latina has also been incredibly instrumental in Fatima’s success, opening her up to many opportunities to expand her relationships in her career. 

“I was able to connect with many different cultures because of my background and the connections I was making in my community,” says Fatima. 

Her Latina background was especially helpful when it came to language connections. While working in Kearny, Fatima was the only employee who was able to speak Spanish and Portuguese. This allowed Fatima to bring in a lot of new business and relationships to the bank that otherwise would not have been possible due to language barriers. And Fatima knows all too well the struggles of working around a language barrier.  

“When I first came to the USA, I didn’t speak English and it was hard to adjust,” says Fatima reflecting back on her early beginnings. “I worked hard and connected with American people to learn the language. It was very challenging, but also would up being very rewarding.” 

Now Fatima is able to give back and help connect with clients who do not speak English or are not as confident with the language yet. This unique opportunity has driven Fatima to success and has also made her very proud of her past and where she started from. 

“Be proud of your past and who you are today,” says Fatima, “keep working hard, reach out to those around you to gain support as well as provide support. You can be successful in your profession too.”

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The Valley Bank Team (L to R) Sofia Cordero, Fatima Pearn and Dorothy Kahlau,
First Sr VP
Valley National Bank

Being a leader to others

Following her time working at Provident Bank in Kearny, Fatima’s reputation as a leader and successful worker offered her multiple opportunities in the years that followed, such as the position of Assistant VP Business Banker II at PNC Bank in 2007. She worked there for eight years managing a book of business with over a hundred clients which grew her book of business to over fifty percent. She then was contacted by Santander Bank where she was offered the position of Vice President Middle Market Relationship Manager. This position covered Essex and Hudson County where Fatima managed a book of business of over 150 clients. During this time she also served as President of the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) of the West Orange Chapter in NJ and led her department in Small Business Administration production which included the largest deal size of over $20M in revenue.

In 2018, Fatima accepted a new opportunity at Valley Bank, where she currently works, as the Vice President Commercial Lender. Here she develops and monitors business plans to support the company’s strategic goal of increasing client based and corporate branding. She also participates in community and non-profit organizations. 

Her professional journey has taught Fatima that success is always possible no matter where you begin. It all comes down to your goals and actions. “You may feel like you are nowhere near accomplishing your goals right now, but there is time to change that,” Fatima encourages. “Great things can be accomplished if you put your mind to it and work hard. The first step is to plan and to give yourself goals.” 

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She believes in the process of working toward short-term goals to build on and reach one’s ultimate goal of success. Additionally Fatima stresses the importance of resources and support. 

“It never hurts to ask for help or support from the people around you.” Reflecting back on her journey, she says, “I never thought that I was going to be the position I am in now. I dreamed of being a nurse because I wanted to help people. I was always a natural leader, always worrying about my friends and family and trying to help them. I realized that nursing wasn’t a good fit for me as I got older. So, I chose to be in banking because I liked to help the small and medium size businesses to grow. I would like to encourage everyone not to give up on your dreams.”

Valley National Bank

Thanks to Valley Bank’s Team for being a constant supporter of Latinas in Business Inc.

Sponsor of the 2019  Latina SmallBiz Expo and Pitch Competition