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Q&A: Little Nikita's Big Business

Bringing overseas culture to a new home--and a new business

Some entrepreneurs decide their destiny early on. For Nikita Schottman, it has been eight years in the making, and he's only 13.

Schottman, who immigrated to the United States from Russia four years ago, resides in Chico, California, with his parents. When he was 12, he attended a Youth Entrepreneur Camp sponsored by the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team at California State University, Chico. Armed with the business know-how he got from the SIFE team, Nikita started his business, A Little Bit of Russia, and became profitable his first year.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Schottman: Yes, I wanted to start my own business when I was in Russia. At the age of 5 I was going to buy some oranges and a squeezer and squeeze juice, but I decided not to because I didn't think I'd make that much money. At 7 I rented my bike out to kids.

How did you get started with your current business?
Schottman: My mom read about the SIFE camp at Chico State in the newspaper and thought it was a good idea to go. On the third week [of the camp], we're supposed to pick a business, and I couldn't think of anything. At that time, my grandma was here and she brought a whole bunch of Russian things. After [listening to her] talk about it, I decided to do that as my business.

What kind of products do you sell?
Schottman: I sell Matreshka dolls--they're little nesting dolls, the wooden [ones] that open up and have a smaller one inside it. I also have Birch wooden boxes. You can get Matreshka dolls anywhere in Russia, but the Birch wooden boxes you can only get in Siberia--that's where I'm from. They all have special designs on them and they're very pretty. Not many people sell these, and the ones that do charge about twice as much as I do, or more. They also don't have the birch, so I have a real advantage.

Where do you sell your items?
Schottman: Basically I sell them at craft stores and fairs. In Chico on Thursday nights we have a market fair that I'll be selling them at. I'm also going to a beach festival--I think I'll make a lot of money there.

Describe a typical day for your business.
Schottman: It depends. Right now I'm working on my Web site, http://firststepsite.com/a-little-bit-of-russia.com/index.html. The day before a festival, I spend about three hours getting all my prices checked, getting my stuff together and making sure my display board is ready.

What plans do you have for the future?
Schottman: I want to go to Harvard or Stanford. I'm probably not going to keep this business forever. I'll think I'll start some other kind of big business and still have my own company. For now, I want to open a store eventually. I want to get enough money to go to college and get [graduate degrees] in business and law probably.

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