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Handley Owens
April 13, 2023

Student Entrepreneur Innovates Dog Treat Business While Wowing Audiences

You never know where a creative idea will take you — if you have the will and stamina to research, develop a product, innovate and bring it to market. Just ask Handley Owens ’23. While formulating a business concept for an introductory entrepreneurship course at Berry, Handley tapped into childhood memories, recalling how she created healthy, homemade dog treats when her dog Belle became sick from eating commercial dog treats and food. To honor her furry friend, she created Southern Belle Naturals, a handmade dog treat business.

She continued to grow Southern Belle Naturals and entered Berry’s “Shark Tank”-like competition known as the PITCH. In 2022, Handley won first place in the established venture division and topped out as audience favorite. She credits her success to her storytelling strategy.

“I could have gone up there [on stage] and spewed all of these facts, but at the end of the day, I started a business because I had a story that I felt was worth sharing,” Handley recalls. She went on to develop a website, increase her sales at markets and handle custom treat orders. “I did a birthday cake order for a dog, and that was super-duper fun because that was my first ever pup cake order,” she remembers.

Handley’s top three tips for starting a business in college are no-nonsense. “First, you need to have an idea that you believe in,” she says. “If you’re just starting an idea to make money, you’re starting it for the wrong reason.” Second, beginning a business is difficult, and entrepreneurs should prepare for the challenges they may encounter. Third, Handley encourages new business owners to establish a strong community who will provide support when challenges arise.

Paula Englis, Charles A. Dana Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, has mentored Handley through different phases of business growth. “Handley started in the entrepreneurship program her junior year and has participated in more entrepreneurship program activities and has won more money (about $20,000) than any other student,” she says. “Each time she entered an event with a new idea for her business, she got a cash award, implemented it and took it to customers at on-campus seasonal markets or selling events. It’s a continuous cycle of innovation and new products or services available for customers.

“Her latest product, Southern Belle Subscriptions, is centered on family, food and fashion. For example, family means doing something special with your dog (like a water bottle for the dog so you can go hiking together); food means different flavors of her organic dog treats, which last for more than a month; and fashion is a fun seasonal bandana. She even has her own take on edible dog bowls. I’m proud of what Handley has accomplished with her business and will continue after she graduates!”

Handley’s ability to inform, entertain and persuade comes from the heart. “I love public speaking,” she says. “It’s one of my most favorite things ever because I feel like it is one of my strengths.”

Given Handley’s record so far, you’re sure to hear from her well after graduation — whether it’s new products to celebrate animal companions or a powerful idea. Stay tuned.

Want to see Berry student entrepreneurs competing for cash awards to fund their business start-ups? Finals for the PITCH competition will take place on Friday, April 14, 2023, at 7 p.m. in Spruill Ballroom in the Krannert Center.

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