Horsing Around: Ernst & Young Teen Entrepreneur of the Year and Irvine Valley College Student Maryam Edah-Tally Student Spotlight

September 30, 2019
Maryam Edah_Tally on a beautiful white horse

15-year-old Maryam Edah-Tally was sitting on an overturned bucket in a dusty horse stable when she got an idea that would not only change her life but go on to make her Orange County’s 2017 Ernst & Young Teen Entrepreneur of the Year.

Her vision was to create a product that would enable girls to express their creativity by decorating their horses with flowers. Edah-Tally loved adorning her own horse with wildflowers and leaves, but as soon as she started to ride, these decorations would blow away. Edah-Tally had a solution.

“When I was on that bucket, I thought, I’ve had this problem before, and I’m sure there are other girls who have had the same problem,” remembered Edah-Tally. “I see all these girls sharing photos of their gorgeous horses on Instagram. I’m sure they would like this product!”

It was then the Irvine resident got an idea to start a company to make hair clips with silk flowers to decorate horses. Inspired by her friend and fellow horse rider Kayla Cabanting, Edah-Tally knew that she wasn’t the only equestrian who enjoyed “dolling up” her horse.

Just a few months later, in the spring of 2016, the then high school senior co-founded Fleur À Cheval (French for “The Flower Horse”) with Cabanting and launched the start-up on Etsy, a marketplace website for handcrafted goods.

That same fall, Edah-Tally began her first year at Irvine Valley College.  It was there she found supportive faculty like John Russo, a professor in the Entrepreneurship and Management department, who encouraged her to keep dreaming big.

“IVC was instrumental to where I am today,” says Edah-Tally, who is now 19.  “[They] helped me with everything from improving my business plan to helping me develop the social cause for my business, which is a big part of our philanthropic initiative to give back to various organizations.”

At IVC, Edah-Tally was able to improve her company’s business model and take advantage of the “hub of connections” that came with enrolling in its entrepreneurship program.  While serving as the president of the Business Leaders Society at IVC, for example, she met various industry professionals who spoke to the student club, which has close ties to the business community.

“It is wonderful to see young people like Maryam who are so passionate and focused on achieving their goals, and not afraid to ask for help and guidance from others,” said Russo.

To market their products, Edah-Tally started an Instagram account featuring photos  of friends with their horses wearing their flowers. One photo “blew up” and was shared 700 times by equestrian celebrities, horse bloggers, and YouTubers. As social media attention kicked in, it drove traffic to Etsy, and in no time, Fleur À Cheval was off and running.

At the same time, her entrepreneurship courses provided important “real-world” perspectives that helped her shape her company. “[My mentors] basically gave me the how-to toolkit on taking what you learn in class and in textbooks and applying it to an actual corporate, entrepreneurial experience,” says Edah-Tally, who also cites former IVC Dean of Business and Online Education, Dr. Cathleen Greiner, as another important champion.

Like many of her IVC mentors, Professor Russo’s help didn’t end in the classroom. He assisted her with her financial statements, three-year financial projections, and her “go-to” market strategy. He also encouraged her to continue to take part in business competitions.

Being a part of pitch competitions is essential to the entrepreneurial journey, according to Russo. “[You need to do that] in order to share your ideas with others and receive critical feedback to continue to improve your business concepts and network with others,” he explains.

In “The Successful Business Plan” course, Edah-Tally learned to draft an executive summary and created a pitch deck for Fleur À Cheval, which she in turn used at competitions. Later, when she represented IVC at the statewide “Get A Taste of Success” Business Plan Pitch Competition, she won. But Edah-Tally’s awards didn’t stop there. Soon afterwards, she was named the 2017 Ernst & Young Teen Entrepreneur of the Year for Orange County.

“That was a big moment for me, my family, my teachers, my mentors, and my business as well,” she says.

Edah-Tally credits her parents, who are also entrepreneurs, with helping her cultivate a “can-do” attitude. “My mom and dad told me when business owners are involved, it makes their businesses that much more successful and helps build brand loyalty,” noted Edah-Tally, whose mother owns a Montessori school and whose father has a videography company. “To this day, I make the flowers myself. I don’t outsource it to anyone else. I keep it local, right here in Orange County.”

Today, Edah-Tally is spreading the word about Fleur À Cheval with the help of “global brand ambassadors,” who are fans of her products and tout them on social media. She now has 50 such ambassadors from more than 25 countries speaking more than thirteen languages. Images of Norway’s most famous horse, Batman the Friesian, wearing her flowers has further fueled the popularity of her company.

Today, Edah-Tally juggles growing her business with taking online classes at Cal State, Fullerton, helping her mother build a new brick-and-mortar location for her preschool, speaking all over the world about her experiences as a young entrepreneur, and serving as a mentor.

“I have Ernst & Young, and John Russo, and all my teachers to thank,” she said, reflecting on her accomplishments. “Those people are who I owe my success to, as well as to my parents who planted the seed and helped me grow in a household where I was taught to pursue my potential, and then gave me the freedom to explore.”

For more information about Irvine Valley College’s Business and Entrepreneurship program, visit https://career-education.ivc.edu/department/business