You never know what types of opportunities or events you’ll find while scrolling through SUNY Broome’s HiveHQ Highlights each morning. For Perkins CTE Career Coach, Briana Alford, an informational post from SUNY Broome’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Center reignited her passion for design and inspired her to turn her love of creating into a thriving business. 

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Alford lived all over the United States with her mother before settling in Endicott, NY in the summer before ninth grade. Alford was constantly creating as a child, and was delighted to learn that Union Endicott High School offered a wide variety of advanced art classes in everything from sculpture, to fiber art, to jewelry design. 

“I come from a family of artists, so I was always encouraged to explore my creativity in different outlets. I was so excited that U.E. had so many classes for students interested in fine arts. It was perfect for me. I took every class that they offered,” said Alford. 

Briana thrived at U.E., in part due to her participation in the Upward Bound program. The Upward Bound program, which provides opportunities for high school students to enhance their future successes in college, played a major role in Alford’s life. So much so that she stayed connected to the program long after graduating from high school. 

Thanks to a particularly welcoming campus tour facilitated through Upward Bound, Alford made the decision to attend SUNY Buffalo State College to focus her artistic studies in wood/furniture design. In addition to spending her time working in the art studio, Alford was an extremely active member of the campus community, serving as a Student Ambassador, Orientation Leader, College Senator, Sorority member, Resident Advisor, and member of the Board of Trustees. 

Alford’s capstone design.

In her senior year, Alford’s capstone project, a hand-crafted, wooden table was selected to be displayed in the President’s office. One day, as she was leaving the final Board of Trustees meeting of the year, she mentioned to her fellow board members that she had designed the table that many in their group had stopped to admire. Within minutes, she made her first professional sale.

After graduating from SUNY Buffalo State College, Alford headed home to Binghamton University to begin her graduate studies in public administration. While the connection between furniture design and public administration might not initially be clear, Briana Alford had a plan. She wanted to join the furniture movement to create simple, sustainable, durable furnishings that could be distributed to developing countries or countries recovering from natural disasters. 

Part of Briana’s master’s curriculum included participating in global service learning experiences. While she loved that she was given the opportunity to travel, study, and volunteer, her body did not hold up to the conditions of living in developing countries.

“I ended up being hospitalized in Peru due to a parasite. The experience made me realize that I might not have the physical ability to work in some of the developing countries that sustainable furniture serves. I took some time and decided that I needed to regroup and reconsider my professional future,” explained Alford.

During her time of reflection, Briana visited her friends at the Upward Bound program. This was not out of the ordinary for Alford, who spent every college summer with the Upward Bound team working as a peer mentor. Almost immediately after explaining her situation, Alford was offered a job as the program’s Head Mentor.

“It just clicked that I was meant to be working with students, specifically from Upward Bound. They had my heart. Between my summers working for Upward Bound and my leadership roles at Buffalo State, I was always helping to mentor and orient students to academic opportunities. I just didn’t realize it,” said Alford. 

Alford completed her graduate degree and spent a year and a half with the Upward Bound program before joining the professional staff at SUNY Broome as a Career Coach in the Career, Transfer, and Bachelor Partnerships office. While most of the campus knew Alford for her work assisting our students with crafting their resumes, preparing for interviews, and developing career readiness skills, very few knew about her talent for wooden jewelry and furniture design. That changed, however, when Briana read an advertisement in the HiveHQ and signed up for the Entrepreneurial Assistance Center’s 60 hour small business program. 

Since 2005, SUNY Broome has run the Entrepreneurial Assistance Center, which is a collaboration between the Binghamton Local Development Corporation and Broome Triad. Since its creation, SUNY Broome’s EAC has hosted 18, 60-hour programs for start-up entrepreneurs and growing businesses. So far, the EAC has supported over 600 new businesses with action-items like business plan development, technical assistance, and specialty certifications. 

“Briana Begets,” an online retail store for inspirational, custom wooden jewelry and furnishings, was born in the EAC’s entrepreneurship program. Alford not only completed the program while working full-time at SUNY Broome and part-time at the YMCA, (all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic), but she also won first place in the EAC’s business plan competition.

Briana Alford was awarded first prize in the EAC’s business plan competition. She accepted her award virtually during the program’s graduation ceremony.

“There were days when I asked myself, “why am I doing this to myself,” but I just kept going. I took a three and a half year break from creating after graduate school and I needed to come back to my roots as an artist,” explained Alford. 

As both a career coach and an artist, Alford truly believes that limiting yourself is the ultimate hindrance to professional and personal successes. 

“One big thing that I have learned through my experiences with creating my business is that you should never limit yourself to what you think you can and can’t do. If you want to do five things, figure out a way to do five things. If you want to do fifteen things, you can figure out a way to do fifteen things too. Just don’t be afraid to ask for support and never stop learning along the way.” 

If you or someone that you know is contemplating starting a business and has been inspired by Briana Alford’s story, consider joining our Center’s next class in September 2022, which will be a hybrid setting of both virtual and in person sessions. Students will learn everything that you need to turn your idea into reality, and make your business a success. Learn more about SUNY Broome’s Entrepreneurship Assistance Center.