Allyson Ames discovered her love for baking and serving her family sweet treats at the age of five. After putting together a business plan during her final year at the Culinary Arts Institute of America, Ames decided she was ready to launch her dream. Armed with a vision and the backing of her mother--who mortgaged her house for seed money--Ames opened Wonderland Bakery in Newport Beach, Calif.
"I figured if I'm going to bet on anyone, I'm going to bet on my daughter," says Sandra Ames, Allyson's mother and business partner.
Now in its fourth year of operation, Wonderland has grown beyond just a bakery into a conceptual brand with "Allyson Wonderland" at the center, surrounded by delicious baked goodies. In addition to the "wonderlicious" cookies and cakes, there are toys, a cupcake purse, kits for kids to make their own deserts at home using Allyson's recipes, and the Allyson Wonderland Bear by Gund; a talking plush bear that tells the inspirational story of Allyson Ames and Wonderland Bakery.
Allyson Ames' Wonderland deserts have won her several awards, including 2008 California Business of the Year and "Sweet Ambassador" for Newport Beach. The View's Whoopi Golderg also named Wonderland's gingerbread cookie the best in the nation, which lead to a commision for a presidential cookie for Obama's inaugural celebration.
The mother and daughter team is in talks with a major toy distributor and is being courted by major retailers in the hopes of taking the Wonderland brand national. "We actually turned down a multi-million dollar deal with Target because, where do you go from there?" says Sandra Ames, as the reserved Allyson stands by with a quiet smile. "We're looking for the right partner to help take our dream to the next level."
It is such fearless ingenuity that is at the heart of entrepreneurial spirit. A spirit that is showing up more and more in the youth, according to Mark Victor Hansen, serial entrepreneur, co-author of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
"Kids are the ones with new ideas," Hansen says. "They are the ones who will innovate, start new businesses and I believe the kids are the key to economic recovery."
It was with this confidence that Hansen set out to find young entrepreneurs to feature in his latest book, The Richest Kids in America. His goal: to inspire other kids to go after their dreams.
"I want to inspire the young world to entrepreneurship, instead of going after the American dream job," Hansen says.
Patching Holes in the Market
Sometimes the dreams are born of necessity. For Chauncy Holloman, it was her search for a greeting card for her friend that led her to a gaping hole in the market. She wanted a card that was edgy and urban, but couldn't find one that satisfied.
"I couldn't find anything that would speak to my friend the way I would," Holloman says. "They were either too serious or much too childish."
Surrounded by several generations of entrepreneurs, the only sensible option for Holloman was to start her own greeting card company to fill the void. Like so many entrepreneurs under 18, Holloman enlisted the help of her mother to be her business partner. They pitched the urban greeting cards to family and friends, and entered a competition, in which they were awarded $10,000 toward starting the company.
In 2003, Harlem Lyrics Enterprises, Inc. was launched and a greeting card company for the hip hop generation was born.
"Our first run was eight oversized, professionally printed cards," Holloman says. Today the Harlem Lyrics Enterprises' product line includes more than 100 cards, a variety of stationary and a line of graphic tees which are distributed in Macy's department stores.
When asked how she got a distribution deal with Macy's, Holloman says networking is key. "I did a speaking engagement in Chicago and it got picked up by Black Enterprises' Black Report TV . The husband of the person in charge of supplier diversity [for Macy's] saw the segment, woke his wife up and she contacted us."
No Fear: Low Risk, Big Rewards
For most young entrepreneurs, their parents are not going to mortgage their homes for startup money. Cameron Johnson started his first company at the age of nine, when he received a computer and printer for Christmas. The computer came with desktop publishing software, which Johnson began to play around with immediately.
"A week or two after I got the computer I showed my mom these invitations I had printed," Johnson says. "She said 'wow, you can print the invitations for the holiday party your dad and I are having.' I said 'sure if you pay me.'"
And for a fee of $15 to make 50 invitations, Johnson started a printing company. The first in a succession of 12 companies Johnson would start before he was 21. The first may have been short-lived but by the time he was in high school Johnson was making $15,000 a day with an online advertising company serving 100 million ads a week.
Had he not been so young when he ventured into entrepreneurship, Johnson says he may not have been able to try so many different things, start and fail so many times and ultimately be as successful as he is.
"Kids become entrepreneurs all the time without even realizing it," Johnson says. "By starting young, especially while still living under your parents' roof, it's a great opportunity for you to take more risks because you don't have the responsibilities you have when you're older."
You might lose the allowance money you invested, but you're not going to lose your house. You have the flexibility to make a lot of mistakes when you're a child entrepreneur, which in the end makes you a better business person, says Jennifer Kushell, president of YSN.com (Your Success Network) and author of the best selling book Secrets of the Young & Successful: How to Get Everything You Want Without Waiting a Lifetime.
"If you start a business when you're an adult, you have to be a lot more strategic about what you're doing and about what you're putting at risk.the things you could be sacrificing," Kushell says. She added that when you're a kid or teenager, you're usually the only one affected by your failure. "You can pretty much recoup anything you loose in a summer's work."
Being a successful entrepreneur also means getting comfortable with failure, says Kushell. As a business person you're bound to make mistakes, but every mistake teaches you something. It's important to get past the fear and take the first step toward starting your business.
"If you know you have a good idea," Cameron Johnson says, "don't make excuses. The most important step in starting any business is to just put yourself out there."
Find out more about these young entrepreneurs in Mark Victor Hansen's book, The Richest Kids in America: How They Earn It, How They Spend It and How You Can Too , available online and in bookstores.
Kimberlee Morrison is the startup and finance channel editor for Entrepreneur.com.