How today’s young people are pursuing entrepreneurism
by Dylan Roche
There’s no rule that says you have to be an adult to launch your own business. While most teens and children are content to simply have hobbies, there are those among them who have found ways to market and monetize what they love to do. Are there challenges? Of course. Is it rewarding? Very much so—not only in a financial sense but also in terms of education and experience.
So, what does it take to be a young entrepreneur, and how can parents support one? Here’s what entrepreneurial teens in the Greater Annapolis area (and their parents) recommend when it comes to launching your own business.
Tap into skills you’ve been developing since you were young
When teenager Ellie Heath established Three Blue Bunnies—a line of wearable art made from repurposed jean jackets—it was after years of developing her crafting and sewing skills. “My mom has always supported the arts and gave me the chance to be able to create from a young age,” she says.
“At the middle school level, I was able to take three years of sewing classes, and that gave me the necessary skills I needed to sew jackets.”
Get creative in combining hobbies
For eight-year-old Christian Crowner, combining hobbies was as simple as selling popcorn, a favorite snack. He combined that with his love of music to establish Christian’s Hip-Hopcorn, a gourmet popcorn business he entered into the Annapolis Youth Entrepreneurship Fair in fall 2019.
“Christian is a lover of music, people, and always willing to try new things,” says his mom Jasmine Carey Crowner. “So to be able to make something he also loves, popcorn, with a music theme and make people happy at the same time brings him joy.”
Have a business plan from the start
When teenager Matthew Beagan established his T-shirt business, Fridays with Matthew, he invested in a screen printer to make shirts. But he realized that if he was going to cover the cost of his investment, it required some critical thinking. “I think the most important skill I’ve learned is the importance of a business plan, to find that equation that accounts for every cost of a business,” he says. “It was hard to figure out good pricing when I was upgrading materials constantly because it was difficult to project the amount of jobs I was going to make, how long my equipment would last, and what unexpected costs I’d have to pay for along the way.”
The same business skills that matter for adults matter for young people
Professionalism comes naturally to some kids. This is one of the noteworthy qualities that Ellie Heath’s mother, Amy Heath, observes in her daughter. “She has a good foundation, a keen sense for business and understands the time involved to make a profit,” Heath says. “What makes me most proud is that she has friendly customer service skills and knows how to talk with a multitude of different types of personalities.”
Don’t be intimidated just because you’re young
Even elementary schoolers are old enough to tap into their leadership skills with the right encouragement. Kaleb Good’s mother, Latolya Foote, sees this when she assists her elementary-age son with his cookie business, Kaleb’s Kookies. “Kaleb is a natural-born CEO! He loves making money and telling people what to do, so he jumped right into his leadership role,” she says. “When doing events, he controls the money, with help of course, and also promotes and sells his product. He can be a bit shy at times but that doesn’t normally last long.”
Part-time jobs and extracurricular activities help
As children grow into teenagers, they take on greater amounts of responsibility in their personal, academic, and professional endeavors. This ends up making them stronger business owners. Devon Beagan discovered this when she launched her line of tie-dyed, screen-printed clothes called ApparelbyDevon on Etsy. The entrepreneurial endeavor was hardly her first job, and she was already familiar with multitasking, marketing, and hard work.
“I think I was able to develop these skills throughout my life in many different ways, but my love for clothes started when I first started modeling and working with clothing companies around the age of 14,” she says.
Be adaptive and ready for change
By the time she headed off to college, Erica Szymanski already had multiple business endeavors to her name. Erica had established Erica Morgan Designs, a line of car decals, magnets, and watercolor prints, and her products were carried by more than 40 boutiques across eight states. She had also published a children’s picture book, “A Shark Tooth Fairy Tale.” And she learned that any time she fell short it was always a learning experience. “A component of the product launch process can be trial and error, so learn to ‘fail forward’ and receive feedback on your products before you get too far into the process,” she says.
Start small but let things grow
Teenager Jack Cohen launched his outdoor-inspired clothing brand, Little Cub Outfitters, after a school project was well received by those around him and he realized he could monetize his product. He started with a print-on-demand model that carried little risk but also had lower profit margin and longer fulfillment times. After a year, he got a little more serious. “I spent a ton of time designing quality designs, had my first shirt professionally manufactured and shipped to my house (so that I could fulfill everything myself), completely redesigned my website, and had professional photography done,” he says.
Tap into your network and seek mentorship opportunities
Many of the teens (and their parents) agree that having a strong network opens up opportunities. Ellie Heath encourages teens to check with their local chamber of commerce or their school’s entrepreneurship program. Erica Szymanski talks with other vendors when she does events and develops relationships with the store owners who carry her products.
Find ways to market yourself
Jack Cohen says marketing can be a big challenge. “I think the problem is that most social media nowadays are so oversaturated,” he says, “which makes it hard for smaller businesses and creators to find success.”
But it’s important not to give in to discouragement. Erica Szymanski found that every chance for self-promotion made her stronger. “I have refined my elevator pitch throughout the years,” she says. “But what helped me most was constantly throwing myself into the public speaking arena for practice.”
Parents should be ready to be involved
Even when youth entrepreneurs are doing most of the work themselves, there will still be times when parents will need to lend assistance. Tristan Lindsey, who runs Tristan’s XL Lemonade at only 7 years old, recalls a time when his stepdad had to save the day. “One night around Christmas time, we had a big order for our new Holiday Cheer lemonades, and the person we order our gallon jugs from sent us the wrong tops, so I couldn’t use his jugs,” he says. “It was really late at night and most of the stores were closed. My stepdad had to drive out and find gallon jugs that we could re-use for our lemonade orders.”
Even teens and young adults need help occasionally, as Lisa Beagan found when her kids Matthew and Devon launched their businesses. “They both asked for my guidance with the financial aspect of profit and loss, as well as what was necessary to start a business and pay taxes,” she says. “At times, this was a family experience.”
Want to support one of the young entrepreneurs ?
Here’s where you can find more information or contact them about their products:
Fridays with Matthew
Matthew Beagan @fridayswithmatthew
contact for custom jobs
ApparelbyDevon on etsy.com; Send a message for personalized pieces
Tristan’s XL Lemonade