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claire henry

Flavor Roots: FSC’s Seed-to-Scale Program Helping Student Realize Dream

Feb 25, 2022

To get in touch with her roots, Claire Henry ’21 started creating Asian-inspired ice cream.

Flavors like strawberry rose, black sesame with a twist of coffee and a spicy chocolate flavor inspired by the region her sister was born in, FuZhou, are some of the creations she has come up with.

The business administration graduate, who is now studying for her MBA at Florida Southern, has dreams of seeing her ice cream on the shelves of major super market chains.

With deliciously inventive flavors and an inspiring back story, hopefully Purple Panda Creamery will be in ice cream freezers everywhere in no time.

Born in Guanzhong, China, Claire was found as a baby at a tin factory by a man who would take her to a nanny. Ultimately, through the assistance of Great Wall China Adoption, Claire would meet her “forever family” in Tampa, Fla.

Claire often thinks about her birth parents and the man who found her.

“If they didn’t give me up, I would have never had this life or the opportunities I do,” she said. “I appreciate what they did for me even though it was hard.”

Purple Panda Creamery is a way for Claire to honor her heritage and culture and utilize Florida Southern’s Seed-to-Scale program through the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise.

With the Seed to Scale program, students can develop a startup idea, create prototypes to test customer demand and build their company to scale. The business school launched FSC’s first startup accelerator this semester, and students like Claire are already utilizing it.

The accelerator program offers targeted support to increase the rate in which a student’s startup can develop, according to Justin Heacock, director for the Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at FSC.

About five to 10 students with viable startups are chosen each semester for the program. The hands-on learning experience allows the students to take their ideas and turn them into an operable business.

“These are often things like mentorship, education, resources, connections and access to certain competitions that can give them financial support,” Justin said.

Claire has always had a heart for business and even launched Purple Panda Pillow Company when she was 14 with her best friend, Madison. The company was a way to raise money for Madison’s sister who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

As with many childhood ventures, the company disappeared but Claire kept the name for her next business venture.

“Every time I celebrate something and was surrounded by family, friends and people who supported me there was always ice cream involved,” she said about why she chose ice cream as her business.

Claire and her fiancé, Devin Kenney, also bonded over the cold treat. Date nights would consist of trying new ice cream shops, and they would even indulge after their shifts at Publix Super Markets Inc., where they met.

“Ice cream is there through the celebrations and through the heartbreaks,” she said.

Now, Claire is working with the Seed-to-Scale program at FSC and Catapult, an entrepreneur center in Lakeland, to get her ice cream into the hands of the community.

At Catapult, Claire can utilize their kitchen space to create her Asian-inspired ice cream so she can legally sell it to the public. She plans to do a pop-up shop at the Lakeland-based entrepreneur center this summer.

One day, Claire hopes for a brick-and-mortar shop or a shred space where she can dish out her unique flavors to other ice cream lovers.

The ultimate dream? Publix Super Markets Inc. and other grocery chains.

“I would love to see local ice cream sold at a local Publix,” she said. “I’ll just keep reaching for the stars.”