Kidpreneur Maya Penn on Starting Up and Giving Back

Maya Penn’s small business-success story has appeared in Forbes, Black Enterprise, Ebony, Huffington Post, Rebook and Atlanta’s Fox 5 News. And she’s only 12 years old.

The multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, philanthropist, designer, artist, animator, illustrator and writer would seem to be an anomaly when compared with her contemporaries in the seventh grade. But for the Atlanta-based young trep, who started out crafting ribbon headbands for family friends at age 8, her entrepreneurial ambitions are simply a product of her environment.

“I started my business out of curiosity,” says Penn, whose online shop Maya’s Ideas has since expanded into a line of handcrafted accessories and clothing made from eco-friendly materials like recycled fabrics and organic cotton.

Not only did Penn’s mother Deidre teach the younger Penn to sew, her father John, also an entrepreneur, served as an example. And thanks to homeschooling, the Penns were better able to customize their daughter’s education toward problem solving and crafting creative business ideas.

“We’ve always encouraged Maya to make her own decisions at a young age,” Deidre says. “We want to give her a sense of independence.”

So far so good. Though she works on the business just part time, Maya’s Ideas is on track to bring in about $55,000 in sales this year. She also vows to give away 10 percent of her profits to Atlanta-area charities. Penn, whose company is profitable, has donated $4,000 along with many volunteer hours.

Related: Apple and the Kid App Maker Revolution

Between her studies, running a thriving business and being a regular tween girl, we caught up with Penn to chat about life as a pint-size entrepreneur. Here is an edited version of that conversation:

Q: What do other kids say about you running your own business? 
A: They think it’s really cool and some have even been inspired to start their own businesses. I love being able to spread the word and teach other kids and teens like me about being entrepreneurs.

Related: Five Ways Kidpreneurs Make Better Entrepreneurs

Q: How did you become interested in environmental causes? 
A: I learned a lot about things like solar energy from my dad. When he was a kid he won awards from NASA and the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard for his science fair projects on solar energy. And, while creating my products I started doing my own research and found out how the chemical dyes in clothing can be harmful to people and the planet. I thought, how can helping the environment tie into my business? I immediately knew it had to be eco-friendly.

Q: You give 10 percent of profits to charity. Why? 
A: Since I was little, my parents have taught me that you should share what you have when you see someone who needs help. I used to go to the store with my mom and dad to get food and canned goods and donate it to the local food banks. It was only natural that I would apply the same principal to my business.

Q: How did you raise the money to first start making your headbands and launch your business? 
A: Most of what I started with was fabric my mom had laying around, and some recycled vintage clothes. I asked my mom’s permission to use them, of course. For other supplies that I needed, my mom gave me a budget of $200. As my items started to sell, I was able to use some of the money to buy more supplies. Then it took off from there.

Related: Why a 12-Year-Old Launched His Own Social Network

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Doing exactly what I’m doing now. Being an entrepreneur and philanthropist and doing everything I can to help the planet. I may be one person, but the smallest actions can lead to the biggest change.

Q: What’s your advice for other aspiring kid entrepreneurs?
A: Start an idea journal where you can write down all of your ideas for your business. Whether it’s a small thought that crosses your mind or the next big idea, it’s important to have it written down. Also, you have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Don’t get discouraged if things are going slower than you expected. And don’t give up too quickly.

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