It all started at a yard sale.
More than a year ago, Jason Rony saw a cotton candy machine for sale.
“I didn’t think too much about it. I was driving away and had this whole idea in my head,” he said. “I went back and bought the machine.”
Then he bought five more.
He turned his idea into a business: The Cotton Candy Lab.
“I thought, ‘Where can I get cotton candy? I love it but haven’t had it in years and there aren’t many places you can find it and there’s only two flavors,’” he said. “I felt I could do a better job of making cotton candy and making it in front of people by showing them the cool process of chemistry and physics and how it turns it into such a fluffy substance.”
Most cotton candy comes pre-packaged and loses some of its light, fluffy texture, but Rony set out to create something different.
Each cone he creates is made to order and can be viewed as the cotton candy is formed from flavored sugar into a large fluffy ball of goodness, as Rony puts it.
For Rony, the love of The Cotton Candy Lab comes from science and being able to design stickers, find events, establish an LLC, obtain a food permit, learn about local ordinances — and of course, make cotton candy.
While making the cotton candy — of which he offers 10 flavors, with more in the works — he wears a lab coat and goggles and explains to children the science behind how the treat is made.
Rony talks about the process of how the sugar melts instantly when it hits the coil and, because of centrifugal force, is pushed through tiny holes on the side, forming tiny strands of sugar which all clump together to form the cone of the cotton candy.
“I really like how happy it makes people,” he said. “One of my favorite parts of making the cotton candy is seeing the kids’ faces light up and they’re so excited when they get it.”
During the last year and a half, he has participated in events in the Lynchburg, Roanoke and Blacksburg areas.
Rony, a Forest resident, is now a Virginia Tech freshman studying food science, but he got his start in Lynchburg at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, where he created a program called Doceo Data, focusing on making teaching guides for different products.
“It opened me up to anything business and how people are doing this for a living and it made me consider how I could turn different ideas into a business. I’ve always had things bouncing around in my head.”
Tony Camm, instructor of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, first met Rony when he was 12 years old.
The academy provides a nationwide curriculum lasting 26 weeks for students ages 11 to 17. During that time, they learn everything they need to know about launching and sustaining a business.
“We knew he was going to do something with his life,” Camm said of Rony. “The stuff he was doing with his business was sometimes even over my head.”
Camm worked to teach him business principles but said he would often get lost in all the mathematics and data Rony would become obsessed over.
“It was mind-boggling,” Camm said. “We knew he would do something with his life because he’s that kind of guy.”
He is happy to know the academy gave Rony his first exposure to creating a product, learning to market it and make a profit.
Stephanie Keener, director of the Small Business Development Center — Lynchburg Region, helped Rony get his business plan created and is excited to know it has been successful for the past year and a half.
She said she especially enjoys working with young clients such as Rony because they have a lot of passion.
“Even if he doesn’t stay the owner of a cotton candy stand, he will walk away with so much more experience and knowledge than anyone graduating with a business degree ever will, because he will have tested a product, experimented with a product, gone through the process of setting up and running a business and understanding the basics of how to make that budget work,” she said.
Rony’s dream is to work in research and development and to make new food products.
“I get to work on that goal at The Cotton Candy Lab by making new flavors such as citric acid to make cotton candy,” he said.
The experience has taught him so many aspects of running a business from marketing to understanding business law.
“I’m really proud every time I make money because I can reinvest it back into the business,” he said. “I started with $100 and was able to sell more and eventually bought a canopy, a generator and more machines. Now I have everything I need but I can expand on new flavors and possibly work on getting a kitchen certified.”
He hopes to eventually sell his product online and through delivery apps.
“As long as I keep on enjoying doing it. I love all the aspects, including getting food-certified and getting everything put in place, all of that makes it a fun process to do and I never want it to turn into something I don’t enjoy doing,” he said.
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.