Pivot from small business owner to big-time consulting company

Sarah Belser-Ehrlich (MBA16) has had a lot of different jobs in her life—from a cupcake business she started in her hometown of Plattsburg, New York, to various jobs in New York City, like being a cheese monger and selling jewelry. But after working as an intern at a neuropsychology lab, she decided it was time for a big change.

Sarah ran her cupcake business, Just Call me Cupcake, with her sister and mother throughout her undergrad at Skidmore College in New York. While she studied neuroscience and chemistry, and looked forward to a career in public health, she got a little antsy with the slow-moving industry.

“I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “I loved the cupcake business, so I wanted to learn what business actually is. I started looking into grad programs.”

Taking the leap

After discovering the Iowa MBA Program through scholarship opportunities with Americorp, she signed up for a One-and-Done event. She flew out for a half-day interview, where she met everyone in the MBA program.

“They really did a great job of communicating what the program is about, allowing me to talk to with different people and various parts of the program to see what advantages Tippie had as compared to other programs out there,” says Sarah. “The process was very smooth and personable. It just felt right, and I thought, ‘Okay, I fit in here.’”

The next morning, on her way back to the airport, Sarah got the acceptance email. Her first thought: “Oh my god! Am I moving to Iowa?”

But the transition was easier than she expected, and Iowa City reminded her a lot of her hometown in New York.

Finding the right path

Her next step was to find out where she fit into the program. She tried business analytics first, but she found her calling in the Finance Academy.

“When we had the cupcake business, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances,” she says. “Finance is something that’s super applicable to whatever I do.” 

The Iowa MBA Program not only gave her the chance to find her place within the program, but also find her path beyond her education at Iowa. While Sarah’s dream job is to be Anthony Bourdain (“If I could get paid to go around the world, eat all their food and talk about it, then that’s my dream job”), her plan B is consulting, and she has the career fairs to thank for that.

“Going to a career fair was very helpful for me, to start that narrowing-down process and getting a better idea of what is available or what will be available to me after I complete this program,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

Getting the right experience

She found an internship at Booz Allen Hamilton, and after a demanding interview process, she packed up and headed to Washington, D.C., for the summer.

Sarah took pieces of her public health experience and her finance knowledge and put them toward a consulting project dealing with a virtual reality program that could help people dealing with chronic pain. The best part, however, was being able to spend an entire summer meeting with Booz Allen employees and getting to know the company.

“Talking to people gives you a lot of exposure to a company from the inside,” Sarah says. “It was like trying on a job.”

Sarah gained a lot of experience and professional contacts for when she graduates and moves on to consulting jobs, then to owning a business, although she’s still figuring out what to start. 

“I know that whatever direction I take, it’s going to be even better than what I did before.”