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Sweet Dreams

Current MBA student Sarah Millsaps, is opening up Bright Spot Donuts in her hometown of Raleigh, while balancing a full-time course load and summer internship at NetApp.

By Jess Clarke

Sarah Millsaps found a way to link her experiences teaching English in Argentina, managing a bagel restaurant and, currently, pursuing a Poole College Jenkins MBA degree.

How? By opening a doughnut shop. Her diverse pursuits all inform the approach she brings as co-owner of the new Bright Spot Donuts in her hometown of Raleigh.  

With the shop, her different roles are gelling. “I like things to be in conversation with each other,” Millsaps says. “It feels like all sides of my life are in conversation, and a lot of that happens around Bright Spot.”

Millsaps’ conversation isn’t just within. She and her four business partners are busy discussing preparations for Bright Spot, from menu planning to hiring employees. And she’s tapping her MBA skills and knowledge in the process. 

Bright Spot Owners: John Knox, Joshua Bellamy, Andrew Cash, Sam Kirkpatrick, and Sarah Millsaps (photo credit Anna Routh)

“Already I can keep up in discussions that I couldn’t keep up in before,” says Millsaps, a full-time student who expects to finish the Jenkins program in 2023.  

She made the decisions to pursue an MBA degree and get involved with Bright Spot in tandem. 

“I want to be literate in things like finance and accounting, so when I’m at the decision table I have what I need. I want to be powerful and creative in those situations,” she says. “You have to learn the rules before you can break the rules.” 

One broken rule so far? Bright Spot’s owners don’t have a hard opening date yet, although the shop is open on a limited schedule.

The MBA program has been a big boost in Bright Spot’s launch. 

A team of Millsaps’ MBA classmates focused on the business in a digital marketing project. They acted as her consultants for a semester and provided market research, website assistance and digital advertising strategies. “It was a cool setup,” she says. “I learned a lot from the questions they asked me.”  

And Millsaps’ courses on organizational behavior and consumer behavior have been valuable as she thinks about hiring staff, delegating tasks and building a community with customers.    

Outside the classroom, Millsaps credits Poole College of Management Career Center, Associate Director Annie Murray. 

“She has the ability to balance both support and challenge,” Millsaps says.

I’m learning how to leverage my capabilities much more effectively than before. I’m grateful for the career advice on offering what you have in a compelling way at the table.

This summer, Millsaps will have an MBA internship as a professional services consultant at NetApp, a data management company with an office in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. She’ll be on a team with 2021 Jenkins MBA graduate and NetApp employee Rachel Smith.   

“I’m really looking forward to working for and learning from a company like NetApp,” Millsaps says. “I’ve never worked in a corporate setting…I’m excited to switch things up and still have an adviser role at Bright Spot.”  

Working in her Bright Spot role as a student is a good combination for Millsaps, who chose the Jenkins MBA partly because of its strong data analytics and entrepreneurship programs. 

Her co-owners have opened and worked at successful businesses in and near Raleigh. Her partners are Boulted Bread bakery owners Sam Kirkpatrick and Joshua Bellamy, Jubala Coffee owner Andrew Cash, and John Knox, chef at Benchwarmers bagel shop, where Millsaps was general manager until she enrolled at NC State. 

Bright Spot Owners: Sam Kirkpatrick (kneeling), Joshua Bellamy, Sarah Millsaps, John Knox, and Andrew Cash

“I really love who I work with and am inspired by how we work together. We make a great team,” with skills that complement each other, Millsaps says. 

When her team first saw the 835-square-foot building they’re now renting near the Five Points neighborhood, the structure had no roof. That’s been fixed, but the sky’s still the limit as they plan the type of business they want to provide to the community. 

In the planning, Millsaps uses what she’s learning at Poole, including the concept of co-creating a business with consumers, which students have discussed in professor Jonathan Bohlmann’s innovation course. “All the class theories are affirming our business practices,” she says.

“My favorite thing so far with Bright Spot…is that it’s becoming meaningful in many different ways to different people,” Millsaps says. “Whether for the staff or the neighborhood that calls it their doughnut shop, what matters to me is that we generate a space that creates a sense of shared ownership.”