As the owner of Stems – a one-stop-shop for elevating the art of entertaining – Kaiy Smith-Biesman ’11 is committed to the spirit of resilience, diversity and empowerment.
“As a black woman-owned business, mother to little ones, and the spouse of an active duty military member, I have personally experienced the challenges of uprooting my life and starting anew,” said Smith-Biesman, who earned a degree in business administration at Chapman University, with an emphasis in marketing and entrepreneurship.
“Throughout my journey, I have encountered countless instances where people underestimated my abilities due to my circumstances or appearance.”
These experiences fueled her determination to establish Stems with her mother and grandmother. “Our passion lies in all things food and beverage, floral and design,” she said. The company – which was launched just weeks before lockdowns were initiated in 2020 – is set to open its first brick-and-mortar location this winter in Pasadena, Calif.
Stems employs a team of seasoned experts who collaborate seamlessly to execute jaw-dropping graze tables, beautiful cheese and charcuterie boards, engaging workshops and curate incredible culinary experiences for groups of 1 to 1000, said Smith-Biesman.
“Our goal is not only to provide exceptional experiences, but we are also committed to making a positive social impact,” she said. “We understand the struggles faced by underserved businesses, as we have walked in their shoes. That’s why we make it our mission to uplift and empower these businesses by actively incorporating their products, fostering collaboration and providing mentorship opportunities at no cost.”
We invited Smith-Biesman to share her entrepreneurial journey with us, and to talk about how her time at Chapman helped prepare her for success. Read more of her story below.
Are you a Chapman Alumnus who owns your own business? Find out how you can be added to our Alumni-Owned Business Directory. We’ll even send you a sticker to proudly display at your business location!
What influenced you to start your own company?
My entrepreneurial journey began with the realization of my own self-worth. Growing up Black and Italian, food was at the core of everything we did and it became the foundation for an unexpected journey of self-discovery.
As a BIPOC woman, married to someone in the military with two little ones, I constantly found my self-worth tested as we would move from state to state. Although I was college educated and had over 10 years of working experience, every time we moved to a new location, I had to start from scratch and was often overlooked and undervalued. After being told that it was my husband’s job to be the provider for our family, I knew I needed to do my own thing.
On March 5th 2020, I opened Stems with my mother and grandmother and less than two weeks later everything changed. The pandemic shaped the way my business grew and evolved and although we were surviving, we were running into the same obstacles I encountered as an employee. As a BIPOC woman-owned business we were underestimated and underfunded, which stalled our growth.
I began to partner with other BIPOC and women business’ owners because I knew that there was power in working together. Stems isn’t just about food; it’s about resilience, self-belief, and an unwavering commitment to collaborative growth. This is something that I strive for with our partners and our team. Watching us all succeed is why I became a business owner.
How did it start out and how has it grown? What are your goals for the future?
Originally founded in 2020 by a mother-daughter-grandmother team with a focus on teaching people how to be the best home entertainers, we quickly pivoted to offer online wine tastings with cheese and charcuterie boxes when the pandemic hit. As demand grew, so did our catering business, which now specializes in creating stunning edible displays.
Our hopes are that by the end of the year, we’ll be opening a space that will serve as a one-stop-shop for home entertainers. Clients will be able to grab a cheese board, a host gift and floral arrangements, all in one place. This permanent physical space will allow Stems to offer retail and pickup space to our partners who are currently priced out of running their own locations in LA; rent out our commercial kitchen at a lower cost to assist our partners in securing appropriate licensing and legitimacy; grow our service area and capacity so that we can increase our partner purchases; and better support our local community of makers, creators, crafters and growers.
Learn from Chapman Experts:
Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics
How did Chapman prepare you for life and your career? Any skills or lessons that have stuck with you?
Do what you love.
Share about your involvements (clubs, study abroad, research, etc.) while attending Chapman and how it impacted your experience.
Being part of the Tri-Delta sorority was a transformative experience that taught me the profound significance of community and collaboration. Through shared goals and values, I learned the true power of working together towards a common purpose. Whether it was planning philanthropic events or supporting one another during challenging times, our sorority was a tight-knit community that showed me the strength of unity. These invaluable lessons in teamwork, communication, and empathy continue to shape my approach to achieving shared objectives in both my personal and professional life.
Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman and why?
Dr. Cristina Giannantonio taught me the importance of your team and understanding and optimizing the human element within your organization. Effective management involves motivating, leading and collaborating with diverse teams of employees. I gained insight into employee behavior, motivation and decision-making processes, which are vital for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity and achieving organizational goals.
Additionally, it enabled me to better navigate complex interpersonal dynamics, resolve conflicts, and make informed decisions that align with each person in my team and collective needs, ultimately driving the success and sustainability of my business.
Read more alumni news:
Elaine (Cha) Yu ’13 Amplifies Diverse Voices in the Digital Space
What advice/encouragement can you share with students or recent graduates who maybe want to start their own business?
Persistence is key to overcoming obstacles and achieving your goals. Expect setbacks and failures along the way, but view them as opportunities to learn and grow. Stay flexible and adaptable in your approach, as the business landscape can change rapidly. Remember, every setback you face is a valuable lesson that brings you one step closer to success. Embrace the journey, keep pushing forward and believe in your vision.
Where can people learn more about you and your company?
Read more about what Chapman University Alumni are up to on our Class Notes page — and submit your own life updates for a chance to be featured!