From lemonade stands to large-scale businesses, entrepreneurship for kids can take many forms. Regardless of what interest your child leans toward, creative thinking and problem-solving are invaluable skills that could land him or her at the top of a business empire.
“Entrepreneurship requires both resilience and curiosity,” says Meredith Meyer Grelli, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “Fortunately, these are useful traits for all of us, entrepreneurs or not. So we can feel good about engendering these traits in our kids no matter their future pathways.
If we can help kids develop curiosity in their world, and in particular, the willingness to dive into frustrations or frictions they themselves encounter, they may find opportunity.” While going to school dances, practicing for the big game or preparing to get a driver’s license may be typical adolescent activities outside of the classroom, some preteens are turning passion into profits.
These four mini moguls started burgeoning businesses and encourage other young people to hop on the entrepreneurial wagon.
Litter was especially bothersome to Ryan Hickman as a child. So much so, that he decided to take action. “My dad took me to the recycling center when I was about 3 years old, and I just loved it,” Ryan recalls. “I got all of our neighbors to start recycling, and it just took off. Here in California, we can cash bottles in for 5 cents each, so I was excited to make some money and save the planet.” By age 7, he launched Ryan’s Recycling Companywhich has recycled more than 1.6 million cans and bottles.
These days you can find him speaking to schools around the globe, leading beach cleanups, doing on-camera interviews and running Project3R, a nonprofit dedicated to recycling and environmental education. In addition to a speaking engagement in South America, Hickman also has plans to join scientists in a research trip aboard a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea near Spain.
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“Starting your own business isn’t that hard when you have people around you (who) support you,” Ryan says. “I’ve grown my business from my neighborhood to multiple cities, and it’s just because I took it one step at a time and I didn’t get discouraged when challenges came up. It can be baby steps and grow over time.” Ryan’s dad, Damion Hickman, is impressed with his fearlessness in front of the camera and his ambition. “I handle some parts of his business like his taxes and money management, but he’s involved in all of it,” he says. “I think it is important for him to know as much of the entire scope of the business as possible.”
In 2017, when she was 7 years old, Kamaria Warren noticed the lack of racially diverse images on kids’ school supplies. Her solution: Brown Girls Stationery. We started with one character for her party invitations and then started to brainstorm ways to make money,” says Shaunice Sasser, Kamaria’s mother. “Initially, it was started to solve our problem of not being able to find a character who was brown with curly hair.”
Her products, sold online on sites such as Shopify and Faire Marketplace, as well as at local events, includes backpacks, T-shirts, notebooks, blankets, shower curtains, umbrellas and party supplies for girls of color. Several designs feature girls with disabilities and disorders like vitiligo. “I knew that I wanted to create something I could be proud of, that other kids could be proud of, too,” says Kamaria. “I wanted something they could wear that would represent them.” Kamaria is working with her mom to launch a line of teaching supplies like bulletin board borders and classroom décor. She’s also starting second business, Stylish Brown Girls, a premium vegan luxury line of purses for teens.
Ariella Maizner’s profound passion for fashion began at age 6 when she took to the sewing machine. By the time she was 9 years old, she was tie-dying clothing on the roof of her family’s apartment. “I soon realized I had turned my passion into a business when I got hundreds of requests for custom pieces,” she says.
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Ariella soon found herself at board meetings with top designers. “In the beginning, they would ask me questions about my collection and give me advice,” she says. “Now, when I go to meetings, I am confident enough to present my ideas and lead the discussions. I think it is super important to be confident in your vision, but also really listen to other people’s ideas, too, and to be open to feedback.”
Soon enough, she was arranging pop-up events at Bloomingdale’s and other major stores. The tie-dyed pieces sold out each time. Walmart asked her to dream up a collection for teens, and she was the youngest designer at New York Fashion Week in 2019. “It’s an amazing feeling to see girls wear my pieces across the world and for such a big company to believe in me and my design abilities,” she says.
Deb Maizner, Ariella’s mother, offers this advice to parents of would-be young CEOs: “First, make sure you encourage your child to do something they really love. Starting a business is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work.” “Second, ask for advice and be open to learning. We have all learned so much since Ariella launched Theme,” Deb says.
Five years ago, little did the four Billingslea brothers — Joshua, Isaiah, Caleb and Micah — know that sharing their homemade, all-natural gourmet cookies with their community would change their lives. Today, a 1-year-old business partner, brother Andrew, has been added to the company, and they’ve been featured on “The Drew Barrymore Show” and several news outlets. Yummy Brothers cookies, platters, beverages and dog treats are being sold in major cities across the country.
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They ship their cookies, with flavors including lemon white chocolate, snickerdoodle and classic chocolate chip, to every state in the US
“Everyone in town started to talk about the cookies,” says Caleb. “Cookie orders were coming in left and right. We couldn’t go anywhere without people asking for cookies.”
The response has been so tremendous that the brothers decided to launch KidPreneur Expo, an online community focused on helping others build their own businesses. The cookie empire was dreamed up by the brothers, but the entire family has gotten involved: The recipes were created by their great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. And their dad, Greg, who is also an entrepreneur, thought of the name.
Micah says he enjoys working alongside his parents and siblings. “I get to travel with my entire family, and I get to enjoy the responses of customers once they eat our cookies,” he says. “It just feels good.”