At an event last week, 38 teen entrepreneurs pitched their companies to local businesspeople. Each attendee received $5 in Startup Bucks to “invest” in any of the student businesses. The student business with the most Startup Bucks at the end received a cash prize.
The teen entrepreneurs were participants in Schoolyard Ventures, a Philadelphia based organization that helps high school students become entrepreneurs. The students often join Schoolyard Ventures’ programs even if they don’t have a business idea. They come out with confidence, companies, and in many cases, revenue. It’s exciting that 34% of this year’s kids chose to start nonprofits as their businesses.
I spoke with many of the young entrepreneurs before and during the event, and one thing is for sure—they’re hustlers. They’re constantly selling their products and services, and they can teach us a lot.
Here are 11 lessons from the teenage entrepreneurs:
- Lack of funds shouldn’t be an excuse. It should be an inspiration. There was a student who made bio-fuel and used it to drive a teacher’s car. Another student created a wind-powered cell phone charger to mount on bicycles. There were kids with businesses selling food, jewelry, and clothing. None of these students found investors. They all started their businesses with under $50. Don’t let a lack of resources be an obstacle. Let it be an inspiration to be resourceful.
- Take one achievable step at a time. “Sometimes little steps don’t feel significant at the time, but when everything comes together at the end, you recognize their importance,” said Morgan Marant (age 17), founder, Uniquely Me. Uniquely Me is a nonprofit that helps teenage girls develop a sense of identity and self-esteem.
- Focus. “Stay focused; figure out what’s important and ignore the rest,” said Marina Musgrove-Pyfrom (age 17), founder, Full Plate. This nonprofit brings fresh foods, and awareness of food inequities, to areas where there is no access to fresh foods.
- Partner. Create more opportunities by partnering with other companies. Sharif Tarver (age 18), CEO of Philly’s Future Talent, convinced a recreation center to let him use their space for his lounge—at no charge. The lounge will be a place for teens to develop themselves and their talents. Because of this partnership, Sharif has a built-in audience and an excellent location.
- Solve your own problems. Khari Evans (age 16), CEO of Kcorp, was frustrated that his cell phone ran out of batteries, and he couldn’t charge it when using his bike. So Khari developed a wind-powered cell phone charger. Khari’s company will have a better chance of succeeding because he’s addressing a problem he understands.
- Prove it. DJ Scorpion, Rapper Quaa Lovee, and designer Gibron Wynne provide talent for parties and events. They said that they sell with demo reels and CDs because telling people about their talents wasn’t enough. They had to prove it. By the way, all profits generated by their company, Scorpion’s Musical Hope, goes to Philadelphia public schools that no longer offer music. The funds are to be used to reinstate music classes.
- Be committed. Richard Taylor (age 18), founder of USB Initiatives, which sells solar-powered phone charging kits that students can build themselves, said he learned that potential investors didn’t want him to be distracted. They didn’t want him doing other jobs. They wanted him working on only his business.
- You have to ask for the sale (or donation). Jocelyn Velasquez (age 16), CEO of Hermana Mi Amor, was selling cupcakes at an event to raise money for her nonprofit. The event organizer gave Jocelyn a chance to speak (the first public speaking event for this shy student). Jocelyn’s ask—not just for cupcake sales but also for donations to her nonprofit—resulted in her first donation, $50 for her organization. She said that entrepreneurs must to learn to ask for the sale and always be selling. Hermana Mi Amor provides supplies to families in Mexico.
- Get started and don’t give up. Briana Jackson (age 17), CEO of A Taste of Life, said that people will say you can’t succeed and you’ll face plenty of business obstacles. She said to keep going and start young. Don’t wait to start your business. Her fashion design company has already had a fashion show and sold clothes. For inspiration, check out these famous failures that led to success.
- Embrace karma. Aaron VanBuren (age 16), partner of pastry company Tannie’s Tastries, said that he found ways to help his Startup Corps classmates, and he discovered that it was actually a great way to achieve his goals. They all found ways to help him back.
- You have to have fun. Aaron gave a second piece of advice that’s a great way to end the article: you have to always have fun, because having a business takes up way too much time not to.
If you’re interested in another amazing teen, you’ll love the story of Jack Andraka, who as a 15-year-old created a pancreatic cancer test that is 100 times more sensitive and 26,000 times less expensive than current diagnostic tests.
You might also be interested in 23 Killer Business Lessons from Shark Tank.