Samantha Sousa is co-owner of Up & Away Balloons R.I., LLC, a woman-run, R.I.-based business.
Samantha Sousa, a finance major, was entering her junior year at Rhode Island College, working part time as a bank teller and taking classes full time when she decided to start a business.
In 2021 she partnered with Katie Massarone and Trinity Greene to open Up & Away Balloons R.I., LLC. Sousa was 20 years old.
The three women had often bounced around the idea of starting a balloon business of their own when they worked together at a retail store. Their job there was inflating balloons.
When they left retail, they began planning their business in earnest. They built some test designs, tried them out at family events and then released their business to the world.
To make it clear, Up & Away Balloons R.I. isn’t your typical twist-it-into-animal-shapes balloon business. These installations are often massive, sculpturesque works of art created on site.
From a RIC marketing class, Sousa knew that social media was the best way to advertise. So, she opened an Instagram and Facebook page for the business, which she continues to oversee, while all three partners announced the opening on their personal social media sites. Family and friends told other family and friends and the news spread like wildfire. By 2022 their business had taken off and was turning a profit. Clicking that “Share” button on social media is powerful, Sousa says.
Yet Up & Away Balloons R.I. is still what she calls “a side hustle.” Sousa works as a teller at BankRI and intends to transition to the mortgage-and-lending side of banking when she graduates in May. Sousa says she loves working with people and with money.
Being a finance major, Sousa keeps a running log of the company’s expenses. “My working at a bank is also beneficial to the business,” she says, “because I know what has to be done on the banking side and what we as a bank look for in our business customers.”
When asked what she enjoys about finance, she hedges at first before admitting, “I like money. I like the idea of it. I like figuring it out. In our business, I’m always thinking of ways we can do more and be more successful. I’m never settled. I’m always wanting more.”
“I’m super proud of our business,” she adds. “We’re already booking into October.” Of her business partners, she says, “I wouldn’t want to own or run a business with anyone else.”
For some, owning a business would top their list of accomplishments, but for Sousa, graduating from college is an even bigger achievement.
“My dad is an immigrant from Portugal,” she says. “He was born in the Azores and is one of seven children. He didn’t finish high school and never had the opportunity to go to college. My mom finished high school but also didn’t go to college. I think that’s why I’m driven to keep going. I’m an only child. I’ll be the first in my family to graduate college.”
Sousa’s long-term dream is to run the business full time. “If this business could support me and a family, I would leave the world of finance,” she says. “I would love to take care of my parents. I would love to buy my dad his dream Corvette. In the long run, I just want to be happy and to say all the hard work paid off.”