By Tanisha Lele
“You’re never too old or too young to start a business… you can be 7 or 70.” – Sebastian Martinez, CEO, Are You Kidding
Entrepreneurship is often considered complex, risky and challenging. It is often said that one needs to be a natural when it comes to running a business: either you have it in you or you don’t. But these rules and beliefs don’t apply to one’s creative imagination, which is why it’s not surprising to see so many kids not only starting businesses, but actually acing the art of entrepreneurship.
Strong-willed kids refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and question anything that they find confusing or strange. Kidpreneurs are no different; they are simply children who were told that certain problems had no solutions, and came up with fixes by themselves. Those solutions happened to be one of a kind, and today, these kids are managing their own companies with a little help from their parents.
Here are some of the most innovative businesses set up by the youngest entrepreneurs in the world – they may leave you questioning your own childhood, but they will certainly leave you amazed, and optimistic about the next generation of business leaders despite these difficult times.
1. Me & the Bees Lemonade: Mikaila Ulmer was four years old when she first sold lemonade right outside her house. The inspiration behind creating her special lemonade came from being stung by bees several times. While the stings were unpleasant, Mikaila soon came to realize how much good bees do for the environment, and took it upon herself to improve their conditions.
Today, Mikaila sells her bee-beneficial flaxseed lemonade to 1500 stores, and runs Me & the Bees as a social enterprise, with a percentage of profits going to NGOs working on saving honeybees. What started as a project for a children’s business competition came to find a bigger purpose, and has now become a bonafide business. Mikaila also featured on Shark Tank and won US$60,000.
2. Wise Pocket: One fine when Sofia Overton was 11-years-old, she saw her sister slip her phone into her boot, as she didn’t have any other pockets to use. Inquisitive and curious as she was, Sofia tried to do the same, only to realize that it was extremely uncomfortable. That’s where she got the idea to design her own socks that came equipped with pockets, for people without pockets to carry their valuables safely.
Now that Sofia’s business has taken off, she is planning to extend her product line to leggings with pockets as well – a relief for women in particular, since most women’s clothes lack them (assumed by many to be a fashion industry con to force women to buy handbags). To add a social enterprise element to her business, Sofia also donates one pair of socks for every pair sold to children in need. She also appeared on Shark Tank.
3. Romeo’s Rickshaws: In 2017, 14-year-old Caleb Nelson started Romeo’s Rickshaw’s, a Utah-based pedicab (also known as a cycle-rickshaw) service. The inspiration came from overhearing a conversation had by his father Steve Nelson, a Cedar City real estate agent and hotel owner. Shortly afterwards, Steve Nelson returned home to a startup pitch and a fully-fledged PowerPoint presentation as Caleb explained his idea.
Caleb’s Romeo Rickshaws were launched during the Utah Shakespeare festival. Instead of charging a fixed rate for the service, Caleb accepts tips left by the passengers. Half of the tips earned are given to the peddlers, and the other half goes to the business. Of course, there are times when the passengers don’t leave tips, but this hasn’t demotivated Caleb yet. The Romeo’s Rickshaws website now offers pedicab services for transportation, tourism, weddings, and even advertising.
4. Kangaroo Cups: Lily Born created these unique, three-legged anti-spill cups at the age of 11, when her grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s. She wanted to help him avoid spilling drinks and make it more convenient for him to hold cups in place. Her product, designed to serve the needs of anyone with lower motor control, was funded through Kickstarter, and ultimately almost raised three times the goal amount from funders across the globe. Lily now also sells her Kangaroo Cups under her own brand name, Imagiroo.
5. Audiots: Mercer Henderson set up her own app development company, 4GirlsTech, at the age of 13. She created Audiots, an app that allows its users to add sounds to regular emojis. Her inspiration came from texting in her day-to-day life – she wanted to combine audio and emojis to make it easier to communicate while texting her friends. Since then, Mercer launched another app, called FriendITs, as a solution to the problem of not having anything to wear. The app provides a closed, private marketplace for people willing to swap clothes, jewelry, and other items between each other.
6. Nay Games: Robert Nay was 14 years old when he turned his love for gaming into a full-fledged business by creating Bubble Ball. In order to design this game, Robert had to write 14 pages of code, which then went on to become the most-played free game on iTunes, crossing the record previously made by Angry Birds. Robert has also created a more advanced version of the game called Bubble Ball Pro, and another new game called Sight Words And Spelling Games. All of these games are available on his website.
7. Nohbo: Benjamin Stern founded Nohbo Drops at the age of 16 with investment from the one and only Mark Cuban. After watching a documentary in school on the ill-effects of plastic bottles, he was inspired to create an eco-friendly shampoo pod. Benjamin pitched his product idea on Shark Tank, where he won over the investors. After sealing the deal with Mark Cuban, he finally created the first of its kind, single-use shampoo drops.
8. BullyBox: As a teenager, Brandon Boynton had a hard time surviving high school. He was constantly bullied by classmates, but his school had a bully box attached to a wall, where kids could report their bullies anonymously. Brandon took action, but did not feel that it was a secure enough solution for the problem. At the age of 16, he came up with the BullyBox app, which he registered as a product of his own company, MostBeastlyStudios LLC. The app works the same way, but automatically sends bullying reports to the school administrator. Brandon and his team members are on a mission to create more apps that make a difference, rather than serving as mere entertainers.
9. Ry’s Ruffery: Ryan Kelly was only 10 years old when he founded his business, purely out of love for his four-legged friend, Barkley. His dog didn’t want to eat the dog food they had bought, so Ryan decided to create a product that his dog would not only eat, but relish. After speaking to plenty of subject-matter experts, and conducting trials with other docs, he went on Shark Tank to share his product. Soon after, Barbara Corcoran invested US$25,000 in his product for a 25% partnership in his business.
10. Zollipops: What does a 7-year-old love most in the world? For many children, the answer is a lollipop. When Alina Morse was seven, she refused to accept a lollipop offered to her at a bank, as she believed that it was bad for her teeth. Nevertheless, she still wanted a lollipop – and that’s when she decided to create one that wouldn’t harm her teeth. The result of these efforts was Zollipops. Zollipops, or ‘the good lollipops,’ grew extremely popular over time. They are made of ingredients that are natural, and do not lead to tooth decay or any other similar problems. After her product was received positively by consumers, she also launched new product lines, ZollyDrops and ZaffyTaffy.
11. Are You Kidding: Two young brothers, Sebastian and Brandon Martinez launched their own line of funky and colorful socks, Are You Kidding, for a good cause. The company raises awareness for cancer, autism, and other conditions. The duo, who are 12- and 14-years-old respectively, believe in helping out those in need with their products. They stay true to their hashtag ‘KIDSHELPINGKIDS,’ which they also consider their motto.
12. Maddie Rae’s Slime Glue: Almost every child is obsessed with slime (and plenty of adults as well thanks to the Instagram slime craze), and this was no exception for 12-year-old Maddie Rae. She established her business to solve the problem of finding the right kind of glue used to make slime. After plenty of experimentation, she finally managed to achieve her goal. Maddie also participated at Play Fair Convention and Expo where along with several other slimers, she tried her hand at making the world’s largest slime.
Kids are usually considered to be resources of talent and perseverance. Unlike world-weary adults, they’re optimistic and strongly believe in themselves and their own ideas. If these qualities sound families, it’s because they’re also highly-sought-after characteristics that investors look for in adult entrepreneurs.
As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Their minds are full of creativity and imagination, and all they need is the right guidance to help them achieve wonders.
These impressive kidpreneurs have raised the bar of innovation, and set very high standards for grown-ups to follow.