“Just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean you can’t start a business”. That was what Sophia (a youth entrepreneur camper) said to me last summer. And the best part is she was right! It is amazing the ideas that kids come up with during camp. Sometimes they come with something they have been working on and sometimes they think of something at camp. I have seen everything from lawn mowing, tutoring, pet sitting, creating t-shirts, teaching music, creating operating systems, and developing apps. One trend that I’ve seen in the past few years is an increase in creating social enterprises (a company that gives back and helps others).
In the one week youth entrepreneur camp kids ages 9 and up (there’s two separate age groups) come up with their own business idea (based on their strengths and interests) and learn business basics such as marketing, financials, customer service, and branding. They play the biz ops game™ (a game based learning experience where small teams of 4-5 run a paper airplane business) to learn about business operations, create, market and run a real lemonade stand business (to raise funds for the camp scholarship fund), learn from experienced entrepreneurs, present their business ideas to their peers and create a poster to present their business to friends and families. They leave the camp with the tools and knowledge they need to start their business.
How did it all get started? I would like to think of it as fate! I was a very entrepreneurial kid (the e-seedling story is on our website http://www.eseedling.com) with entrepreneurial parents and I realized how much fun it was (even though I had many failures) and the freedom that it allowed (we took many family trips). Even though I went into teaching and what I call the “work world”, I longed for the freedom of being an entrepreneur.
When I was 27, I started a business with a partner and realized that I had no clue on how to run a “real” business. I learned more in the next 3 years, then probably anytime in my entire career. The business was purchased by a regional firm where I again found myself as an employee. Years later, I was fortunate enough to get a job at the UW-Madison Small Business Development Center which held a youth entrepreneur camp. In 2008, when the economy suffered, the camp was in jeopardy of being cancelled. I proposed to rewrite the curriculum so that we could teach it in-house. It has become very successful and each year it fills earlier. Since there is a huge need, and the SBDC doesn’t have the resources to hold more camps, I decided to again become an entrepreneur and start E-seedling to run camps and help others to do the empower kids through entrepreneurship. I agree with Sophia, that you’re never too young to start a business, you just need the opportunity and the knowledge of how.