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Oct 18, 2013

Sparkling Events and Designs

Entrepreneur establishes award-winning event planning company
By Hali Chiet ('07)

Orginially published in Fall 2012 Madison magazine.

Ebony Sparkes Entreprenuer
Ebony Sparkes (’98) is founder and managing director of the award-winning Sparkling Events & Designs LLC, an event planning and stationery design company.

Ebony Sparkes (’98) is the epitome of a successful entrepreneur. In addition to working full-time as an account quality manager for a nonprofit IT firm in Northern Virginia, Sparkes is the founder and managing director of Sparkling Events & Designs LLC, an event planning and stationery design company. “We help clients plan everything from a dinner party to a wedding,” says Sparkes, who notes that she especially enjoys planning smaller, more intimate occasions because she can put a lot of “special touches” into these events.

Sparkes always had a passion for design and event planning, but the idea to start her own business didn’t come until she planned her own 2004 wedding to her college sweetheart, fellow Duke Jamel Sparkes (’00). “Jamel has been my biggest cheerleader. He’s always known about my passion for design and encouraged me to follow my dreams.” Although she was excited about the prospect of starting a company, Sparkes realized it would be a lot of work and wanted to devote time to perfecting her skills and doing research on starting a business. “Even though it wasn’t the best timing because of the condition that our economy is in, it was time for Ebony to move forward with her dream,” says Jamel, who helps with the marketing and finance aspects of the business. “It’s been a challenge, but no one ever gets to a level of success without taking some risks,” he says.

The couple worked together on a business plan and website, and in 2009, Sparkling Events & Designs was born. “The initial challenge was getting my name out there,” says Sparkes, who relies mainly on word-of-mouth for securing clients. “I do invest in advertising, but I find that most of my clients come from referrals.” Her favorite aspect of the job is meeting new people. “I feel honored because it means people trust me enough to develop their vision for an event.”

Sparkes does the planning and design work from her home office in Loudoun County, Va. “My challenge is always figuring out what clients need. Everyone is different, so I try to create a unique, custom event that suits each client’s needs.” Sparkes often solicits the help of a close group of friends — fellow Dukes — who do everything from serving as event assistants to brainstorming ideas for the company. “My friends are amazing and supportive, and they always offer to help me out when I need it.”

In just two years, Sparkes has seen the fruits of her labor pay off. Sparkling
Events & Designs has more than 5,800 Facebook fans and received Wedding­Wire magazine’s 2011 Bride’s Choice Award, which recognizes the top 5 percent of the site’s 200,000 wedding vendors. Sparkes serves as membership director for the Virginia branch of the Association of Bridal Consultants and was a contributor and the first “events guru” for I Am Modern, a women’s lifestyle publication in the Washington, D.C., area.

For Sparkes, one of the most exciting honors was appearing on celebrity event planner Preston Bailey’s blog after submitting photos of one of her events. “When I found out that I was selected to appear on his website, my mouth just kind of fell open in shock,” she says. “I still get client referrals from that feature.”

Sparkes attributes her success to her Madison Experience. “The JMU College of Business helped lay the foundation for how I operate my business.” As a member of the Black Student Alliance, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and a student employee at the Center for Multicultural Student Services, Sparkes met people from numerous backgrounds. “Those experiences were really great because they helped me build my confidence and come out of my shell. I never could have imagined that our company would reach such a high level of success!”

Sparkes enjoys spending time with her family. “Because I work a tremendous amount of hours, any free time is all about family — my husband and my daughters — Sadaia, who is 5, and Marley, who is 2.” 

Learn more about Sparkes.