How Kids Can Make Money Doing What They Love
While many kids while away the season playing video games, some tweens and teens in the tech-savvy Bay Area are designing them. While some youngsters are shopping at the mall with their friends, others are creating and selling fashion accessories online. The profit-making possibilities are wide, and the profits can range from a little candy money to thousands of dollars earmarked for college.
Meanwhile, the life experience and practical skills gained are far more valuable than the money. Kathie Blanchette, vice president of education for the nonprofit Junior Achievement of Northern California, which offers entrepreneurial classes for youth, says kids who run their own businesses “gain critical thinking skills, they work in teams, they learn to communicate and they learn to manage their finances.”
Raising a Young Entrepreneur
If you want to inspire your kids’ entrepreneurial spirit, never underestimate the power of the old-fashioned lemonade stand to get them started.
Just ask Ursula Morales of Walnut Creek, whose kids, Destyn, 12, and Avyn, 6, decided to sell lemonade to raise money for back-to-school shopping last August.
“I set up a table, made a sign and sold $40 within two hours,” Destyn said in an email to Bay Area Parent. Her little brother added, “I had a lot of fun and wish I could hold a sale every day!”
Destyn has been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and is now busy passing out business cards and getting the word out about her second venture, a babysitting business she calls The Baby Butler.
Their mother is thrilled with her kids’ reaction to the lemonade sale. She says it spurred their self-initiative and showed them the rewards of hard work.
“I hope to raise my kids … knowing that everything isn't going to be given to them,” Morales says. “I want them to be resourceful and appreciate the value of a dollar. Rather than just asking for one, I want them to learn how to make one.”
Rodney Martinez, Jr., 13, of Daly City, certainly has learned that lesson. Last summer, after seeing Instagram photos of a friend who was visiting France, he asked his mom, Samantha, why his family didn’t vacation in Europe.
“I told him we couldn't afford a trip like that right now, but we could start up a fund and think of creative ways to make money through the summer,” Samantha Martinez explains. “I was thinking a lemonade stand or maybe a yard sale, but he came up with the amazing idea of creating a pet shop on wheels.”
His dad, Rodney, Sr., found a cheap, old truck on an Oregon farm, and the two Rodneys spent the summer turning it into a mobile store, complete with crown molding inside and a backdrop made to look like a shingled doghouse. The family researched local and unique products for dogs and stocked the shelves. Daughter Alexa, 17, pitched in, making dog collars and accessories to sell.&pagebreaking&Their K-9 Unit Mobile Dog Boutique now visits many weekend markets, festivals and pet rescue events. It even earned a brief segment on The Rachael Ray Show. And soon, says Samantha, it should produce a profit.
“We are definitely working our way up to a Paris trip and are hoping for maybe summer of 2015,” Martinez says.
While it was the love of animals that turned Rodney into an entrepreneur, for Julianna Ersepke, 11, of Dublin, it was a passion for fashion. Julianna makes and sells accessories, last year grossing around $130.
Julianna says she first realized that she could make money from her hobby when she designed a furry bracelet to match the outfit she wore at her seventh birthday, and it “turned out to be a sensation among my birthday guests.”
From then on, she began selling her accessories, moving from bracelets to necklaces, hats, headbands, tutus and crocheted scarves. Using glass, fabric, faux fur, wire and stone, Julianna crafts items that she describes as “outstanding, cute, fine and practical to wear – things that shine with elegance and make that grand presentation.”
Her mother, Jaqueline Ersepke, says Julianna has learned so much – design skills, customer service, marketing savvy and more – that it has been well worth the time and money to support her. She says parents can develop their children’s self-initiative by encouraging them, even if their ideas at first seem far-fetched and overly ambitious.
“Believe in your child's capacity, be aware of their talents and abilities, and never discourage them by allowing your ‘grown-up’ vision to interfere,” she says. “Always show a positive attitude toward their creations and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Teaching Successful Business Skills
Fostering that entrepreneurial spirit has for almost 100 years been the mission of Junior Achievement (JA), a national nonprofit offering youth education in more than 100 regions including the Bay Area.
Among other financial literacy classes, JA features its well known “company program,” in which high school students organize and operate actual businesses, JA’s Blanchette says.
While JA students may not make as much money as kids who start their own business ventures, they do typically earn a stipend, and many go on to run companies. JA counts numerous chief executive officers for major firms among its graduates, including Jamba Juice’s James White and Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer.
JA offers the company program at many high schools, led by JA-trained teachers in economics classes, as well as at local businesses including eBay, PayPal, Pacific Gas & Electric and Franklin Templeton, the investment management firm.
Grace Dong, 15, of Fremont participated in JA’s company program at eBay in San Jose last summer. She says she went from knowing “virtually nothing about business or the professional working world” to learning “important life skills such as management, marketing, leadership and networking.”
Grace and her teammates ran a company they named “oopsie daisie sunnies,” which sold sunglasses that the group decorated with porcelain flowers.&pagebreaking&Blanchette explains that each company has some 10 to 30 members, each of whom chooses a leadership role like president or a support staff position like sales or production. The team researches and selects a product, raises capital by selling “stock,” usually to family and friends, builds or outsources their product, markets it and eventually liquidates the assets.
In her role as chief innovation officer, Grace says she not only led the glasses’ design but she “organized social media accounts for outreach and created flyers, as well as planned, filmed and produced an advertisement video seen by more than 1,000 online users.”
Oopsie daisie sunnies reached customers around the country, earned a 100-percent customer satisfaction rating and grossed $1,000 – and has inspired Grace to pursue marketing or accounting in college.
Stylish sunglasses are just one of many clever products kids can turn into a business, as is evident in a sampling of recent JA companies. One company made duct-tape wallets in crazy colors. Several groups designed and sold T-shirts or Paracord bracelets or belts, and one group went to a junkyard and found old hood ornaments for luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes, transforming them into belt buckles.
One recent company created by an economics class at Independence High School in San Jose made and sold travel mugs, while another class sold beanies with the school logo and colors, their instructor Nedra Zausch says. The beanie group was particularly successful, with revenue of $3,500, but all recent companies at least broke even, Zausch and Blanchette say. Most made a profit and were able to pay back their stockholders and pay their participants around $25 to $50 each, based on their position.
While inspiring the next generation of business leaders is a key goal of JA, another is to teach the basic skills needed to succeed in the workforce as an employee. Zausch says her students usually are ready to nab a good summer or starter job at the end of the program because they’ve learned the art of self-motivation and professionalism.
“As a former JA student myself, I know these skills are vital in the 21st Century,” Zausch says.
From Internship to Work
Another possibility for enterprising young people is to skip the starter job and get a summer internship in their profession of interest instead.
While internships with top local firms typically are unpaid, they often lead to paid work in the near future, says Kevin Nelson, a longtime economics and entrepreneurship teacher in the San Mateo Unified High District, who also runs the district’s GATE program.
Several of Nelson's students have recently scored internships in high-tech fields.&pagebreaking&One student worked for a company last summer making video games for Sony PlayStation. Another was the first-ever student intern at Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, and one young woman worked at Twitter, learning computer coding.
“Many of our students have advanced skills and can land jobs in new companies (after an internship),” Nelson says. “The benefits of the internship far outweigh the minimum wage they’d earn in fast food or retail because of what they get to do and who they get to meet.”
When his own son, Bryce, 16, expressed an interest in a summer job last year, Nelson says he told him, “You’re not going to serve pizza. You’re going to get an internship, and I will support you (financially).”
Bryce, who loves digital photography, found an internship with the San Francisco start-up Romotive.com, which produces a programmable robot toy that connects with iOs devices. Later, it turned into a paid job, with Bryce doing photography, videos and editing under the guidance of a film producer. Bryce’s artwork now appears on Romotive’s shipping packages.
Another of Nelson’s students created several iPhone apps just for the experience. The apps looked good on his resume, leading to well paid internships at WikiHow.com and Intuit for the student, who is now a freshman at UC Berkeley.
Internships aren’t always advertised and can be difficult to find, Nelson says. A great way for students to find one is through their parents’ contacts. Talk to people you know and explore LinkedIn contacts in your teen’s field of interest, Nelson advises. Bryce got his internship after Nelson shared his resume with an adult friend.
While parents can help their teens garner an internship, it should always be in an area the student is dedicated to and passionate about, Nelson cautions.
“Some parents say, ‘You want to do computer coding.’ Don’t say, ‘You need to go out and do this.’ The kid won’t do it,” Nelson says.
However, parents shouldn’t be afraid to encourage their teen to follow through with projects or businesses they started on their own.
“Kids can hit a wall,” Nelson says. “They drop the ball. Say, ‘You going back to that? You’ve got to do that!’”
Camps and Classes for Young Entrepreneurs
Camp BizSmart. Offers 10-day summer camps at Stanford University and the Silicon Valley Foundation in San Mateo in which teams of students ages 11-15 design and pitch an actual product with help from experts. www.campbizsmart.com.
Junior Achievement of Northern California. Offers hands-on entrepreneurship training and other financial literacy classes for kids and teens. bayarea.ja.org.
Youth Start Up. Offers Business Wise and Invention Wise camps for students entering fourth-grade and up in several Silicon Valley locations. Invention Wise teaches the creative process via technology and crafts projects. In Business Wise, teams of campers pitch, market and sell their product. giftedcamps.com.
Angela Geiser is a freelance writer and the parent of two young entrepreneurs who once sold $100 of their grandpa’s avocados in a day.