Kirk Hutton refers to himself as a “sweet-talker” on his business card. It’s a catchy title for someone who is the co-founder of a chocolate shop called Cocoa Nymph, but this 33-year-old isn’t just about sweet deals. An MBA candidate at UBC’s Sauder School, Hutton’s career has included stints working as an aviation mechanic for the air reserves and acting as a product manager for a technology company in Seattle.
The Winnipeg native dove into the 15-month MBA program following a varied career, and degrees in classics and commerce at the University of Manitoba. And he has no regrets. The Sauder MBA, he says, “is solidifying my feeling that what I want to be is an entrepreneur as opposed to somebody who’s just sort of functioning as a small part within a larger organization.”
Three months into the program, in December 2007, Hutton opened up Cocoa Nymph with co-founder and chocolatier Rachel Sawatzky. Nestled in Vancouver’s trendy Kitsilano district, it’s a fitting start for someone who’s always wanted to build something from the ground up. “I like the concept of taking a business from an idea to something approximating reality and launching it,” Hutton says.
Hutton credits his MBA studies with helping him to effectively brand and position his company, which is a local hot spot because customers can actually see Sawatzky making the chocolates out in the open. As well, the shop has a grand piano, and monthly live shows seem to usher in both chocolate and music lovers, from the surrounding area and further afield.
Hutton says he feels his MBA has increased his business acumen, but it’s courses like one he took called “Venture Formation” where he thinks the real learning has taken place. “It was taught by a visiting professor from Stanford, and it was a little taste of real life because you pitch a business idea many times,” he says. “And the professor brings in real people to the panel that you’re pitching to, so you’re talking to real business owners — and they think as if you’re asking them for money, so if you don’t show them something relevant, they’re going to tell you.”
Upon completion of the program in December, Hutton plans to keep Cocoa Nymph, but he’s contemplating his next move, which could include anything from employment in the aviation industry to the carbon market. “It definitely feels like I’ve got a world of opportunity,” he says.