Business student brings bubble tea to Binghamton University

When Leighton Blackwood ’21 first arrived at Binghamton University, he was disappointed to find out how difficult it was for him to get bubble tea, one of his favorite drinks in his city. native of Queens, NY. So he decided to change that.

Blackwood, who majored in business administration with a concentration in marketing, is now the founder and owner of 2nd Heaven, a campus bubble tea shop (also called boba) run by The Union’s MarketPlace. 2nd Heaven sells juice teas, milk teas, iced teas, and lattes that can be customized into over 100 possible drink combinations.

For those unfamiliar with bubble tea, Blackwood describes it as an iced tea drink that customers can add sugar, fruit concentrates and/or creamers to. The drink is often paired with tapioca pearls and other unique, sweet toppings.

Blackwood always recognized that he wanted to start his own business, but also knew he needed a backup plan. He studied marketing and accepted internships and marketing jobs, both during his time at the University and after graduation, while working towards his goal.

When he came up with the idea for 2nd Heaven, he jumped in right away, coming up with a business plan and ideas between his business school classes and his homework.

“It’s always been a dream to have my own thing and build my own future,” Blackwood says. “I knew that in the long run, I didn’t want to stay in a nine-to-five job for the rest of my life. I always had business ideas, but I was always like, ‘How do you actually get there?’ And, of course, business is about finding the niche.

Blackwood first came up with the idea for 2nd Heaven during his sophomore year, when he realized that many students, especially from New York, lacked bubble tea and there was a strong desire for it on campus.

“I came here from New York and a lot of my friends loved the bubble tea in the city,” he says. “But getting him up here was quite difficult. I remember when College-in-the-Woods brought it into the dining hall once for a limited time and my friends were really excited about it because it was hard for us to get to off-campus stores. I didn’t have a car so we had to get on a bus for half an hour, have bubble tea and come back, doing an hour round trip. For us, there was great interest in getting bubble tea on campus.

Now, with 2nd Heaven open on campus since fall 2021, Blackwood has found himself taking on many different roles, from experimenting with new flavors and drinks to ordering ingredients and equipment, and sometimes even working in the store and making drinks.

Throughout Blackwood’s journey to found 2nd Heaven, he was aided by his professional and personal support systems.

“There were so many people who helped me get to where I am today,” he says. “Binghamton University Dining Services, Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, Broome County Cornell Cooperative Extension, Small Business Development Center, my business partner [Darren Shi ’18, ’19], and my friends helped me a lot. It wasn’t something that was immediate, but rather several years of learning, personal growth, negotiating, and competing with other bubble tea vendors who wanted a spot on campus. But, in the end, my support system made sure to help me overcome all the obstacles I faced along the way.

The road to opening 2nd Heaven took Blackwood two and a half years. During this time, he learned a lot and continued to get the support he needed, while working hard to open the store.

“I opened a stand at [Broome County Farmers Market] for eight months from 2020. So even there, there has been a lot of learning and development. It has not been a linear journey, but the support I have received from [Binghamton University] Restoration Services has been an incredible opportunity for me to keep looking up,” he says.

“I’m just really excited for what we’re going to do next. We have a lot of stuff in store.

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