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Young entrepreneurs

How kids and teens in Colorado are forging their own paths

How did you make extra cash as a kid? Did you babysit or pick up a paper route? Across the country, kids are taking these ideas and turning them into fully comprehensive businesses with operating plans and profit sharing. In New York, for example, a then 13-year-old Noa Mintz moved beyond the idea of babysitting to create an entire operational service that matches nannies with families. Nannies by Noa now boasts upwards of 200 clients and major profits, and Noa has been profiled by the likes of Fortune, CNN Money and Teen Vogue.

Why are kids like Noa venturing out on their own? One reason might be the economy. According to a 2015 Pew study, teens are seeing themselves shut out of the workforce in significant numbers compared to previous decades. In 1978, 58 percent percent of all teens ages 16-19 held some kind of summer job. Fast-forward to 2014, and that rate was cut back to 31.3 percent. And while there are many theories on why teens can’t enter the labor force, one thing is clear: kids are adapting by creating their own jobs.

But it’s not just a lack of job prospects propelling kids to venture and innovate. There are also new skillsets, tools and technology that can give young minds a leg up when it comes to starting their own business. A generation that grew up using the internet may find website-building and online marketing more intuitive than adult entrepreneurs learning WordPress for the first time. Additionally, the increase in access to design software and 3D printers also means that designing and prototyping new products can empower young kids to move quickly from ideation to implementation.

And then there’s passion. Inspired by a culture that celebrates entrepreneurialism – from a spotlight on Silicon Valley to TV shows like “Shark Tank” – kids are inundated with phrases like sharing economy, start-up and reinvention. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 77 percent of surveyed students in grades 5-12 said they wanted to be their own boss; 45 percent want to start their own business; and 42 percent said they will invent something that changes the world.

Here in Colorado, kids are already on their way to doing just that.

Not your typical lemonade stand

A lemonade stand. That’s often the first thing that comes to mind when we think of kids looking to earn a couple bucks. In fact, it’s what Steve Bonneau suggested to his then 8-year-old son Jack as a way to earn enough money for a very specific request: the LEGO Star Wars Death Star set, which came with a price tag of $400. So Jack decided to give it a try, but this wasn’t your typical lemonade stand. Rather than set up shop on his street corner in Broomfield, Colo., Jack decided to go to where the people are: the farmers’ market. After 12 weeks of running the stand at a very busy farmer’s market, Jack made $2,000 in revenue and $900 in profit – more than enough to buy the LEGO Star Wars Death Star. With a profitable business model in place, and with the help of his dad – also an entrepreneur – Jack decided to  expand his business in a more official way.

“Typical lemonade stands are run by kids, but you always hear these stories about lemonade stands that get shut down by the health department, or not having permits,” says Jack Bonneau, now 11 years old. “We just wanted to jump through all of those hoops and get the health permits, the business license and all of that.”

With that, Jack’s Stands has expanded from one to four locations and now works with kids and families to help other young entrepreneurs learn more about what it takes to run a business. Kids are invited to sign up online for shifts at the lemonade stand that also doubles as a business 101 learning experience.

“I had such a great time [running the lemonade stand] that I wanted to share my experience with other kids,” says Jack. “When kids sign up, we’ll be there to set up the canopy and the stand. I teach them how to greet and serve the customer, how to get change, how to take credit cards, and how to track their sales. At the end of the day, we’ll go through a profit and loss statement to figure out the revenue, expenses, profit and tips.”

This young professionalism hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, Jack was invited to participate on the reality show “Shark Tank,” where he successfully pitched Jack’s Stands to investors on the show. The investors were impressed – Jack successfully sold 10 percent of his business in exchange for $50,000 and is now developing a plan to expand Jack’s Stands outside of Colorado to states like Ohio, California and Washington.

Scrap metal to social movement 

Kylan Bain, a student in Westminster, Colo., is just 12 years old, but has been inspired to help make a difference in the world for the majority of his young life. It all started when he became pen pals with Haruna, a student living in Uganda, Africa. Kylan and Haruna began writing to each other regularly and seemed to share a lot in common – they both liked to hang out with friends, and math was their favorite subject. But Haruna’s life varied greatly from Kylan’s in terms of basic housing and food needs. At age 9, Kylan decided that he wanted to raise money to help his friend on the other side of the world. At first he tried a lemonade stand, but wasn’t able to raise much money from his efforts. Then he decided to take an entirely different venture: scrap metal.

Kylan went door to door with fliers asking for donations to his new cause, Metal Mission. His STEM Launch K-8 school in Thornton, Colo., heard about his efforts and stepped in to help advertise to other families at the school. Before long, piles of scrap metal were being left at Kylan’s front doorstep. With the help of his family, Kylan collected, sorted and sold the used materials to help fund gifts for Haruna’s family – including sheep, chickens and cows. This successful venture soon caught the eye of the Morgridge Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to funding educational and social good projects. That’s when things really took off.

“[The Morgridge Family Foundation] decided to help my company, and so they bought me a trailer and sent me to Africa,” says Kylan. “We went to see my pen pal. We got ideas on how to help them and what to do next. It was really cool.”

With a trailer at home, Kylan was able to expand his ability to collect and sell scrap metal. And with his trip to Uganda, he was able to get a better understanding of what struggles people across the world face. Kylan met Haruna and his family, all nine members of which live in the same one-room home without electricity or running water. Spending time with Haruna made one thing clear to Kylan: he needed to create a way to spread the word about Africa and to inspire other kids to try and make a difference in the world. This led him to create the Difference Maker Movement (DMM), a project that works with kids to help them learn about causes, raise money and celebrate all of the ways that kids can have a big impact on the world.

“We try to inspire others,” says Kylan. “My message is when you make a difference in somebody else’s life, they make a difference in your life. So I’m trying to get that message out there and inspire other people to do that.“

Fueling your hobby

Fidget spinners appeared to have gained in popularity overnight. The small toys, which spin around a person’s fingers to create a mesmerizing visual effect, can be found everywhere. So when 17-year-old Northglenn High School student Boden Lanham took notice, he saw an opportunity.

Boden has long been interested in 3D printing, but was always frustrated at the time constraints of using his school’s 3D printers – he could only get in an hour here and there, when most projects he was interested in require far more time to print. He knew if he really wanted to dive deep, he’d have to get his own machine. While new 3D printers can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, his interest was piqued by a build-your-own kit that only set him back $170. Boden learned how to use Autodesk Inventor, a CAD (computer-aided design) software program, to design his very own fidget spinner – and word of mouth at school quickly spread. Boden began selling his fidget spinners to pay for his 3D printing hobby, with the profits covering the cost of supplies and printer upgrades. He’s even been able to rapidly prototype to design specialty fidget spinners that meet specific requests.

“I adjust design around the sizes of the bearing and some different designs I’ve seen,” says Boden. “Not long ago, I designed a fidget spinner for a 6-year-old – my math teacher’s kid – because he had small hands and couldn’t use any other fidget spinners, so I designed one for him using pennies.”

Running this side business hasn’t been as difficult as Boden might have expected. He uses a money monitoring app on his phone to do all his budgeting and uses Microsoft Excel to manage orders. The labor is minimal – while orders print, he’s able to focus on homework. And advertising?

“The fidget spinners sell themselves,” he says. “As soon as I sell one, classmates see them and request orders from their friends. Then their friends see them, and it’s just a pyramid effect.”

Boden is looking to expand his inventory and sell more products on his website in the future, but for now is enjoying the opportunity to work on his business and printing skill sets, which are flourishing as the demand for more of his fidget spinners grows. ■

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