116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — For many, the pandemic has underscored how the little things make life sweet.
With iCake, 17-year-old West High School student Aashika Gadkari has put power behind that mantra, producing a tangible way to thank front-line workers.
After baking for several years, she turned her hobby into a business and charitable venue to donate cupcakes to front-line COVID-19 workers like nurses, showing others that the simple gestures can make a big difference in someone’s day.
“I thought … we’re all just saying thank-you to them, but I feel like we could do something tangible,” Gadkari said.
With the excited reaction she received after handing out one of her first batches to front-line workers, she was hooked, turning a hobby that initially helped her deal with the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic into a tool anyone could use to brighten someone’s day.
Though Gadkari had been baking for several years, the product of her kitchen work was mostly confined to gifts for friends and family.
“You should sell this stuff instead,” she was told.
After initially not taking it seriously, she decided to use her spare time over summer break and in between virtual schooling to take advantage of the business opportunity, opening iCake in September with a simple Facebook page.
“I picked up (baking) myself,” she said. “My first flavor experimentation that was successful was orange. The other recipe measurements are based on that (recipe).”
Flavor offerings include orange cream, mango mousse, Key lime, pineapple cream, red velvet, strawberry cream and chocolate fudge.
Armed with a few ingredients and the ability to improvise through trial and error, her formula produced results. Each flavor has a different secret ingredient, which Gadkari won’t expose for proprietary reasons.
“I can’t expose that,” she said with a smile. “After a couple tries, I got (the flavoring) really well, so I decided to stick with it.”
But with a steady base of customers ready to spread news about iCake by word-of-mouth, she couldn’t keep her cupcakes a secret for long. Much of iCake’s business started with gift orders, fueled by birthdays and holidays. Now, she processes up to a few orders every week.
With little overhead and an online model that encourages giving back to others, she has already paid back the $1,000 capital investment from her parents with a little bit of interest.
Her business now donates up to 20 percent of earnings to charity and encourages others to buy batches simply to give away, whether to the receptionist checking you in at your doctor’s appointment, to residents at a nursing home during your visit or on behalf of someone else.
Small gestures can be a simple, easy way to make a difference in others’ days, but also can make a difference in the giver’s day too, the young entrepreneur said.
“It’s mostly to help the community,” Gadkari said. “My experiences have been fulfilling and the people who received them have loved it.”
Gadkari’s Change.org petition has attempted to start a trend anyone can participate in, no matter where they live, asking others to buy from their own local bakery to make the difference.
“I can’t do it myself for the whole world,” she said. “(The pandemic) has helped everyone appreciate the little things. I think it can make people feel like better people. Even (if it’s) a smile or just a cupcake.”
As for the rest of the profits, the West High junior said she will be saving for college, where she plans to major in business — a new area of interest, given her success with iCake. This year, Gadkari said she became the youngest member of the Technology Association of Iowa, given her startup’s online basis.
“This has changed everything for my future,” she said. “If you’re willing to work hard and push through it, you can get some really great results.”
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