11 Successful Kid Entrepreneurs Keeping Their Eyes on the Prize
To these motivated young hustlers, running a business is practically child's play.
Today’s kidpreneurs venture far beyond the lemonade stand. They manage staffs, meet celebrities and are moguls in the making.
Think about that the next time your little ones bug you to help them springboard their own business. We’ve compiled a list with 11 reasons to take them seriously.
The Bee-Stung Beverage Queen
For Mikaila Ulmer, it all started with a bee sting. Make that two. Encouraged by her parents and teachers, the Austin, Texas, native signed up for two entrepreneurship contests when she was just 4-and-a-half-years-old. “At that same time, I got stung by two bees in one week,” she tells Entrepreneur. “What are the chances?!”
To help ease Mikaila’s resulting fear of bees, her great-granny Helen sent her a 1940s cookbook that contained her favorite recipe for flaxseed lemonade. “Then I did some research on bees and found out how important they are to our ecosystem and that they’re dying, so I created a product that would help save them.”
That product is Me & the Bees Lemonade, a flaxseed- and mint-infused beverage that is sweetened mainly with honey from local honeybees. For each bottle sold, Mikaila, who prefers the title “queen bee” over CEO, donates a percentage of the profits to organizations working to ease the plight of the bees, including her home state’s beekeepers association.
Mikaila originally sold her lemonade at a local pizzeria when she first started in 2009. She later showcased her naturally sweet wares at a local Whole Foods store, where she held workshops on saving bees. Eventually, she was asked to sell her lemonade at the high-end grocery store. Now, thanks in part to Mikaila’s charming but “nerve-citing” appearance on Shark Tank, she says, Whole Foods carries Me & the Bees Lemonade throughout its southeast region.
Mikaila’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“Being able to meet awesome people is the most fun part. I love being able to go to different events and presentations to share my story, and to teach people about bees and how we can help them.”
Mikaila’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Be a social entrepreneur. Do something to help solve problems in the world. Don’t go into business to make a lot of money. Create a business that you see the that world is missing, solve a problem with it and do something you have a passion for. Because the more passionate you are about what you do, the more fun you have while doing it!”
The Dropout Democratizing Education
As a child, Erik Finman bounced from school to school and was often bullied, both emotionally and physically. A particularly mean teacher reportedly joined in, advising the Idaho native to “drop out and work at McDonald’s because [he’d] never amount to anything.”
Erik eventually did drop out of school, but not his education. He built his own learning environment from home, using a computer and an Internet connection, and called it Botangle (a combination of “robotics” and “angle”). “I created this side project to kind of save myself,” he said before a crowd at a WIRED event for young innovators last year. “Its mission is to replace the public education system because of my really terrible experiences in it.”
When the robotics prodigy was 15, he took his “side project” to the next level, launching it at as fee-based online video tutoring service. He bootstrapped the startup on his own, using $100,000 he’d cashed-out from a very lucky early Bitcoin investment. Today, he oversees a team of programmers, not only for Botangle, but for several other promising projects.
Keep your eyes open for Erik’s next exciting venture, a virtual reality-based personal computer. “It’s a way for people to learn through the web, your phone, in virtual reality and in person,” he tells Entrepreneur.
Erik’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“The most fun thing is to not have to go to school. I get the freedom to travel, hang out with the most important people in every industry and work on what I love.”
Erik’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“Be selfish. I think [the word] 'selfish' is just a tainted word for self-leadership. Lead yourself through life, do what you love, build what you want to build, go where you want to go.”
The Driven-to-Drive Designer
When Bella Weems was 14, she turned her passion for handcrafting locket necklaces and bracelets into a moneymaker. She started the business as a way to save up for a car after her parents said they wouldn’t buy her one and told her to “earn it.” She sure did, and then some. By the time she turned 16, the driven teen’s Chandler, Ariz.-based custom jewelry startup had exploded into a multi-million-dollar direct-sales machine.
Origami Owl’s flagship product, the “Living Locket,” allows customers to build their own jewelry by mixing and matching the chains, charms and lockets themselves, some of which come adorned with Swarovski crystals. The lockets are transparent and showcase tiny metal charms that represent the wearer’s personality and hobbies. The company also sells earrings, bracelets and other accessories.
Alongside her mom, company president Chrissy Weems, the teen millionaire leads a team of hundreds of employees and thousands of independent jewelry designers the world over.
She’s incredibly busy these days, but not too busy to give back. Through her inspiring Owlettes initiative, Bella personally mentors aspiring entrepreneurs ages 12 through 17. She shares with them the practical business and leadership skills she picked up on her fast track to success.
Bella’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“The best part about being a kidpreneur is being able to encourage kids of all ages to not be afraid to reach for their dreams and never let anyone tell them they’re not good enough or their idea isn’t good enough.”
Bella’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“Take a leap of faith, surround yourself with people who believe in you, follow your heart and always remember you are never too young to achieve a big dream. Also, a positive attitude is a must. Remember things don’t always go as planned, and that’s okay, but, no matter what, keep on smiling and enjoy the journey.”
The Branson-Inspired Merchant and Mentor
Richard Branson inspired Ollie Forsyth to take the entrepreneurial leap at the age of 13. That’s three years younger than the billionaire Virgin Group founder was when he braved his first venture.
One day, while watching YouTube, he had a breakthrough. There was Branson in an inspirational clip, discussing how he turned his dyslexia, something often misinterpreted as a weakness, into his biggest strength.
“Right then I was determined to become like him,” Ollie tells Entrepreneur. His first step: embracing his learning difference. His second: proving the people who said he’d never amount to anything wrong with the launch of Ollie’s Shop. The online gift boutique sells trendy fashion accessories, including bracelets, cufflinks and belts. Ollie handcrafts some of his wares himself at home. Others are sourced from China.
Ollie is motivated to become a millionaire before age 20, and ecommerce isn’t the only enterprise he has his hands in. He also has his own subscription-based online magazine, fittingly called The Budding Entrepreneur, and he’s spearheading a networking group for fellow British entrepreneurs.
Succeeding in spite of the naysayers feels incredibly good, Ollie says. But nothing quite compares to the thrill he felt when he finally met his hero, Sir Richard Branson.
“I met him at a Virgin Unite conference last year,” he says. “I was not going to leave the building until I met him. He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met.” He even has the pic to prove that he did.
Ollie’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“You get to meet some fascinating people, but, most importantly, you get some incredible opportunities from those connections made.”
Ollie’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“You have to do what you love and, if you have a business idea in mind, just try it and see what happens. I see too many people with great ideas, but they do not pursue them as they are afraid to. Just get on and do it!”
The Dentist’s Best Friend
Alina Morse is one lucky girl. She has visited the White House not once but twice, and never as a tourist. Each time, she was an official guest, personally invited by none other than First Lady Michelle Obama
The enterprising Wolverine Lake, Mich., native presented the one and only candy at this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll -- a special treat she invented when she was just seven, with help from her dad, Tom (the co-creator of 5-Hour Energy).
Her sweets are fruit-flavored lollipops that her little sister, Lola, named Zollipops. There’s something unusual about them: They’re sweetened with a blend of xylitol, maltitol syrup, beetroot juice and stevia -- not with sugar.
“I love candy,” Alina tells Entrepreneur, “but I always knew it was bad for my teeth so that's why I created Zollipops. So I asked, ‘Why can’t we make a lollipop that’s delicious and good for your teeth?’”
She did just that in 2014, when she started up her company using $7,500 of savings from her grandparents. Soon, she took to the road to promote her candy creation, available in-store at Whole Foods and SuperValu and online on Amazon. She’s even pitched Shark Tank celeb investor Daymond John on Good Morning America and appeared on NBC News.
On a roll ever since, the fifth-grader introduced her second product, Zolli Drops sugar-free peppermints, earlier this year. On top of providing a teeth-friendly alternative to sugary suckers, Alina donates more than 10 percent of her profits to organizations dedicated to reducing the impact of childhood tooth decay. Now that’s something sweet to smile about.
Alina’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“The most fun thing about being a kidpreneur and working on Zollipops is that I get to travel, meet lots of people and see lots of places. All around the world, we share Zollipops with many people and brighten their smiles!”
Alina’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“Always keep asking questions. You can do anything if you work hard, try and believe in yourself and never give up!”
The Sartorial Scholar
By the age of 12, Isabella Rose Taylor had already sewn up an impressive accomplishment. It was one that even some of the most seasoned fashion designers would covet -- selling her own collection at Nordstrom.
The Austin, Texas, native’s pieces range from crop tops to graphic tees, mostly in black, white and grey. Those that feature patterns are inspired by her love of art. Many depict sketches of hands or splashes of paint, all in an abstract style. Soon after Isabella Rose became the youngest designer ever to market a clothing line at the Seattle-based upscale retailer, the artistic young fashionista checked off another incredible accomplishment: showing off her hippie-chic designs at New York Fashion Week.
Homeschooled and encouraged by her parents, Isabella Rose was bitten by the fashion bug when she was only eight. “From a young age, my parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams,” Isabella Rose tells Entrepreneur. “They told me I didn’t have to wait until I was older to be my own boss and do what I love.”
It wasn’t long before she stitched her entrepreneurial dreams into reality. As an early college student, accomplished painter and poet, Mensa member and Davidson Young Scholar, we’re not at all surprised by the prodigy’s speedy ascent.
Isabella Rose’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“Like most entrepreneurs, I get to build a company around something I am passionate about, and then I get to watch it grow. I have also enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life. As an entrepreneur, networking is very important, and I’ve met people who’ve inspired me and I think I may have inspired others."
Isabella Rose’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
"Starting a business is a lot of hard work. Don’t start a business unless you love what you do. Do a lot of research and planning to make sure there is a market for your product."
The Motivational Speaker Who Wears His Positivity
When he was 8 years old, Jeremiah “JYoungin” Jones had a vision to start his own fashion brand, JYoungin Education. “I saw my dad printing up promotional T-shirts and giving them away to get his own business going and I thought, ‘Why not me?’” he tells Entrepreneur. “Why not let me inspire my own peers and kids of all ages to be great?”
The teen motivational speaker, currently the youth commissioner of his home city of Long Beach, Calif., launched his clothing line in 2009. But it almost never happened. He said in his TEDx Talk that his dad didn’t want to help him make his business idea a reality. For two years, he tried to sell him on the concept. “He didn’t believe in me as much as I believed in myself,” he said in his talk. “Just because we’re so young, and I know we don’t run things around here, but, hey, we still have big dreams as well as you guys do.”
His father eventually came around to supporting his entrepreneurial dream, even making the “ultimate sacrifice” and moving his family out of their house and into an apartment. The brand has taken off ever since. First came the online store, then the brick-and-mortar location, and the sales have kept them both going and growing.
Today, Jeremiah also runs his own nonprofit organization to encourage area kids to excel in academics, sports, business and character development. “This way I can gain larger partnerships and donations to help me expand the overall goal of going global with the plan of motivating others everywhere.”
Jeremiah’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“I like inspiring my own peers and seeing them actually take what I say and put it into action. I also get the chance to be boss, and my parents work for me.”
Jeremiah’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“Never let anyone discourage you or try to talk down on you and never give up. Follow your passion and you'll love what you do!”
The Varsity Athlete Who Needed Tougher Equipment
If you can’t find the product you need, invent it. That’s what Rachel Zietz did. The result: Gladiator Lacrosse, the ambitious Boca Raton, Fla., teen’s premium line of durable lacrosse equipment.
“It’s never too young to start,” she tells Entrepreneur. “I started when I was 13, and it was successful. Most people are afraid, but if you’re passionate about it, you’re never too young.”
The varsity athlete and high school sophomore honors student launched her sporty startup in 2013, largely out of frustration. Despite searching in stores and online, she was unable to get her hands on lacrosse gear that was sturdy enough to withstand rigorous practice on repeat.
“For me, if there's a problem, there's also an opportunity," she told the Sun Sentinel.
Rachel’s parents and younger brother are also entrepreneurs, so she scored in business right out of the gate. In her first year, she racked up $200,000 in revenue. A year later, she was on track to bank $1 million in earnings.
Look out for the talented Young Entrepreneurs Academy graduate when she faces the “Sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank, May 13 at 9 p.m. ET. You bet we’ll be watching -- and pulling for her.
Rachel’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“I believe the best part is that I am able to pursue something that I love [business] and can inspire others that you are never too young to accomplish your dream. Also, it is amazing to run the day-to-day operations of the company and it is great to see the looks on people’s faces when they realize who is running the company!”
Rachel’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“My advice to any aspiring young entrepreneurs is to make sure whatever you do, you are passionate about it. Passion is the key to success and it is what drives you to work through obstacles and challenges in your way.”
The Beachgoer Bent on Making Sandals
Sometimes all it takes is one moment in time to change your fortune forever. For Madison Robinson, it was one trade show.
The first time the young Houston-based inventor exhibited her sea-creature-themed flip-flops at a retail trade show, sales went gangbusters -- 37 different stores placed orders for the funky footwear.
Madison, who's always enjoyed kicking back at the beach, came up with the idea for the light-up sandals when she was eight years old after a trip to the shore. Inspired by fond memories of Galveston Island, her seaside birthplace, she drew the original designs for the sandals. Then her father, Dan, helped make them into a reality. Not exactly right away, though.
“After three years of me bugging him, asking him, ‘Daddy, make my FishFlops!’ he finally decided to help me make some prototypes,” Madison told Steve Harvey when she guest-starred on the entertainer’s talk show.
To date, millions of pairs of FishFlops have sold, first at Nordstrom and now on several ecommerce sites, such as Amazon and Madison’s own online store. The colorful line now includes sturdy rain boots, plush slippers and canvas boat shoes.
Additionally, her footwear is available at several U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums member locations in support of the organization’s Saving Animals From Extinction initiative.
Madison says she believes in “sharing the blessings” of her success with others less fortunate. To walk the walk, she’s donated more than 20,000 pairs of FishFlops to several charities, including Shoes for Orphan Souls and Texas Children’s Hospital.
Madison’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
"I enjoy encouraging and inspiring others to think about creating their own business. TV interviews are fun and exciting, but having my hair and makeup professionally done before the interview is the best.”
Madison’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“You have to take the first step on your own, be patient, persistent and never give up. Write down their idea, share the information with family and friends and get their opinions. Make sure you balance your time and enjoy life while working.”
The Teen Adding Texture to Texting
Like most teens, Mercer Henderson uses a flurry of emojis when texting with friends -- but she uses them a tad differently than most people. She adds sounds, turning the expressive visual icons into what she calls “soundmojis.”
One day, the tech-savvy San Francisco teen was making her own soundmojis when the entrepreneurial lightbulb went off. “It was something I had fun doing already,” Mercer tells Entrepreneur. “So why not put the two together?” And the seed for her Audiots iOS app was planted.
The app, put forth by Mercer’s new company, 4 Girls Tech LLC, features 50-plus noisy emojis. Among them is a kissy-face emoji that makes smooching sounds, a broken heart emoji that audibly shatters and a poop emoji that, uh...we’ll just stop there, ‘k?
To take Audiots from concept to downloadable reality, Mercer Henderson got a decent leg-up from her mother, Lisa, a product marketing exec at Salesforce. Her uncle, a LucasArts sound engineer, also pitched in on sound-mixing. Not a bad startup support team, right?
The budding young tech-preneur recently penned strategic branding partnerships with GE, HINT water and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). For her SPCA collaboration, she’s raising awareness for animal welfare by enabling Audiots users to send fun dog and cat emojis that say "funny things" and, of course, bark and meow. She also recently released Cardoji’s, a line of customizable digital greeting cards targeted to members of generation Z.
Henderson's also working on integrating Audiots with email and Facebook. All of this, of course, after her homework is done.
Mercer’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“The most fun part for me is the emails I get from people telling me they like the app! One girl told me it is the only app she has ever downloaded! I try to email everyone back after I do my homework and stuff. Also, being on TV was fun.”
Mercer’s advice for aspiring kidpreneurs:
“My advice is if there is something you like to do, think about if other people like it too. Then try to create a more fun or simple way to do it.”
The Bully-Battling Chief Executive Coder
Founder: MostBeastlyStudios LLC
Brandon Boynton’s entrepreneurial journey began on the heels of a personal crisis. In middle school, the Pendleton, Ind., native was bullied, physically and mentally, for being different.
“I looked weird, I sounded weird,” he recalls during a phone interview with Entrepreneur. “I was really shy and scared of everyone…” That is, until he began to come out of his shell and eventually gathered the gumption to run for class president, a decision that unfortunately resulted in yet more bullying, only worse than before.
Mean kids ripped down the election campaign posters he’d handmade and taped up around his school. They scrawled hurtful words and names all over them like graffiti. Some of the signs even ended up in school bathrooms, cruelly defiled in urinals.
“What they did, it just tore me up and upset me, to put it lightly,” says Boynton, who began to think suicidal thoughts at the age of 14. “I wanted to see the people who did it punished, not in an evil way, but just in a way that would address their behavior and make it stop.”
Seeking justice but not wanting to invite retaliation, he anonymously reported his tormentors by slipping a written complaint about them into a bully box, a wall-mounted mailbox-style repository intended to be a safe place for students to inform on bullies under the cloak of anonymity.
Using his school’s bully box got the budding software developer thinking he could design a better one, an app-based bullying prevention and anonymous reporting tool that he thought kids would be more likely to use -- and not make fun of.
With the love and support of his parents (a police officer and a school teacher) and the business skills and resources he’d gleaned from his local chamber of commerce's Youth Entrepreneurship Academy program, he launched his own software development startup, MostBeastlyStudios LLC.
The company’s first product is The BullyBox, Boynton’s unique digital spin on the old-school bully box. He designed and developed the anonymous bullying reporting app, standing up to bullies in his own, peaceful way that he says he hopes changes the world for the better. “I make apps that make a difference. Not games. Apps that improve lives,” Boynton says.
Schools pay $499 per year to enable their students to use the app. Some 100,000 students in 22 U.S. states, and in New Zealand, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, now use The BullyBox.
Who’s having the last laugh now, bullies? Brandon Boynton, that’s who. Yes, that guy, the one on his way to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the fall -- for free, room and board included. The university offered him “very close to a full ride,” he says. To top it off, the Lilly Endowment, Inc. foundation also awarded him a four-year, full-tuition college scholarship.
See? Good guys don’t always finish last.
Brandon’s favorite part of being a kidpreneur:
“Being a social entrepreneur and giving back. I take it seriously. As a social entrepreneur, you’re doing something to improve society, and I’m committed to doing that, to keeping that promise to myself.”
Brandon’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Always remember that being an entrepreneur is more than just being someone willing to take a risk in creating a business. It’s about doing something that forces you outside of your comfort zone -- and outside of the comfort zone of your peers and your social group. It allows you to do something great, and to devote your time and effort to a cause that has a positive impact. That’s true entrepreneurship.”