[dropcap sid=”dropcap-1446585320″]I[/dropcap]magine a handful of friends locked in an abandoned asylum with only 60 minutes to escape. They search for clues scattered across the room, solving puzzles and overcoming brainteasers as they look for the key. Their search turns frantic as the timer winds down, until, finally, the clock strikes zero and the buzzer sounds.

“Sometimes you escape, and sometimes you get hoodwinked!” laughs Michele Ware (’94, MBA ’15), Creator/CEO of Harlem’s ‘Hoodwinked Escape,’ a recent entry in the growing craze of NYC “Escape Rooms.” Hoodwinked offers four unique, lifestyle themed-puzzle rooms that test problem-solving skills and collaboration—perfect for dates, parties, or just a fun night out with friends.

Ware first discovered escape rooms in 2014 when, as the head of accounting at the World Economic Forum, she brought her staff to one as a team-building exercise.

“I was immediately struck by what an amazing business idea it was,” Ware recalls. “Three months later, I decided to quit my job, work on my business plan, and here we are!”

Ware quickly secured 2,500 square feet in one of Harlem’s historic buildings and flew in an expert European “escape consultant” to help her devise each room’s puzzles and gimmicks.

“Our escape rate is about 35% to 40%,” Ware explains. “It’s challenging yet doable. No phones or technology are allowed, so it encourages real communication between teammates.”

Despite having no official entrepreneurial experience, Ware notes that her Baruch education provided her with the tools she needed to get her business up and running in no time.

“My time at Baruch,” she says, “both inside and outside the classroom, prepared me so that I can walk into any company, know nearly nothing about it, but still understand how to make an impact.”

Smiling participants after escaping a room at Hoodwinked

She cites her leadership in Baruch’s student clubs, particularly the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), as having a major impact on her ability to succeed.

“I always tell people that my career started at Baruch,” she notes. “Quite simply, NABA prepared me for the boardroom.”

Ware remains committed to her alma mater. She serves as board president of the Pat Johnson Scholarship Program, which provides scholarship awards to NABA students at Baruch, and has assisted with the College’s SEEK program.

And when she’s not opening doors for aspiring Baruch students, she’s closing them—locking them, to be precise.

“I donated Hoodwinked tickets as a raffle prize for last year’s Battle of Lex basketball game,” she recalls. “I was asked if I’d contribute, and it was a no-brainer: I can never say no to Baruch.”

– Gregory M. Leporati

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