Young Entrepreneurs: Owning It Like a Boss
By Brenda Eggert Brader
Polk County has many entrepreneurs — but not many of those business owners are middle and high school students. All these young entrepreneurs have different reasons for starting their businesses — a need for cash, a desire of creation or ownership, fascination in the project concept, or perhaps just a little curiosity. But what has resulted is the commitment, enthusiasm, and yes — success — that has enveloped each one of these young people as they pursue their endeavors.
Marimar Ramos, 18, has just returned from her senior class trip to Scotland and Ireland. That trip was her incentive to raise $5,000 — thus becoming an entrepreneur.
“It all started with doodling when I was little,” Ramos says of her business in making decorative garden flags.
“I always liked to doodle and never thought of it as a talent. Even when I had a chance to take art classes, I decided to take psychology instead. Then when I wanted to go to Ireland for the senior trip and had to raise almost $5,000, and I didn’t know how to. Then it just came to mind my painting and doodling.”
Ramos bought fabric to cut into shapes, creating flexible garden flags for hanging on a flag post or used as artwork.
“I decided to draw on it, color it in and made a painting,” she says. “I made one for my mom and then thought, ‘Hey, I can sell these.’” Ramos has expanded, moving on to home décor, kitchen towels, and aprons.
“Everything has a natural feel to it, you know, with the burlap,” she says. “It has a very vintage feel to it. For the kitchen towels I use light and soft fabric. I paint on fabric — on the actual fabric — like others would on canvas or wood.”
Everything Ramos sells is less than $25 except for her new big flags, four times larger than the garden flags, which sell for $40 each. She also has launched sales of bookmarks, purses and wallets.
“I heard about the craft fairs and the ones in Winter Haven downtown and just went for it,” Ramos says.
She stocks a booth with 75 items on any given sale day.
“Mostly my former customers come and it is because they bought from me before. And when I see them approaching the booth, I think I have sold to them before,” Ramos says. “They say, ‘Oh, I have come here just for you.’ I am like wow!”
Ramos has lost count on how many items she has actually made.
“I never thought it would take off so much,” Ramos says.
The future holds an education that Ramos says she feels takes precedence over anything else, but she wants to continue her business. She believes her business can help pay for her education.
“I love doing it and will continue to do it, but not for what I call mass production,” she says, and adds that she spends hours at home creating her products.
Whereas Ramos created her business through her own fortitude, other young entrepreneurs have been guided by a program under the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.
Rebecca Fortier, director of programs and events for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, runs the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) program, which helps guide students in the county starting their own businesses.
“A program that started at the University of Rochester (NY) in 2004, has followed with several chapters around the country, with about six in Florida and Polk County the newest,” Fortier says. “This year there are nine students filling out an application process plus two written essays. The students must commit to 30 weeks of meeting once a week for three hours.”
Students need an invention, goods or a service to participate, and are guided to determine whether it is a good idea — asking themselves if what they have is a good business opportunity. Each student must put together a list of expenses, make a business plan and make up a slide show for a presentation, which recently culminated in April with an investor presentation, similar to that of the television show, “Shark Tank.”
The rest of the year is split in lab computer time, class time, getting all types of legal information (tax numbers, licenses).
“Students end up with a product or service to sell, scheduling a trade show in May to have a display table and show their invention,” Fortier says.
Among some of the business ideas are a cleaning service where physically challenged and elderly homes are cleaned for free, a pencil writing corrective tool, a specially shaped pillow for sleeping to rid back pain, a dog collar GPS tracking system, and an edible wrapper on cupcakes.
“My mother has been a paraplegic for two years from an accident,” says Lakelander Jayla Fairley, age 13 and in the eighth grade at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven. “I saw the need and really based this business on what I saw.”
Fairley wants to clean homes for the physically challenged and elderly for free while paying for that service by charging her regular cleaning customers.
Hoping to go along with her business plan as long as it takes to mature, Fairley says she feels like her mother being a paraplegic “made me mature faster seeing the problems she has. I want to fix the problems. I want to fix this gap in the community. I will find volunteers that want to do this sort of thing to help me in this gap in the community.”
Fairley has houses in the greater Lakeland community that she cleans for free for elderly and physically challenged individuals. Her business officially starts in May and she is now in the process of finding volunteers to help with it.
“I estimate needing two volunteers per house. We are just determining stuff as we go,” Fairley says. “Transportation is part of the starting business plan.”
“The class is very important to me. It has become my passion,” she says.
The mother of two sisters, now in YEA, found a letter written by a recently deceased relative. That letter offered so much comfort that an idea led to the business, Letters of Love, set forth by the Kincart sisters, Lexie, 17, and Lauren, 14. In twelfth- and ninth-grade, they attend Polk State College Collegiate High School and George Jenkins High School, respectively.
“My mother found a letter from her grandmother after grandmother’s passing,” Lexie Kincart says. My sister, Lauren, and I wanted to help family and friends to make the same kind of connection. It is more personal, something hand written and not as quick as email.”
The sisters took a random survey of a group of people ages 50 to 80, all of whom thought it would be good to have a letter sent that was not to be read right away. The letters are stored by the young women and delivered when the bearers specify.
“It could be a delayed letter sent about an illness or when you are not ready to share something with your child at this point or only after death,” Lauren Kincart says.
“Our marketing strategy for now is to create brochures and distribute to area churches,” Lexie Kincart says.
Graduation for the program is May 17 and both gals take this business venture as one of life’s skills that they will be able to take with them to college.
Of course delicious food is always a good business venture.
“Cupcakes have always been a good hobby for me,” says 12-year-old Jasmine Parchment, a seventh-grader at All Saints Academy. “I love eating them and I love baking them and I love giving them to family and friends. My sister and I had a driveway business called Cookie Cuties and sold cookies and cupcakes and walked around the neighborhood selling them. My family likes baking things and we cook a lot.”
To make her product distinctive, she decided to deliver the cupcake wrapped in an edible cake cup made of fondant.
“I have little brothers ages 5 and 3, and they love cupcakes and anything sweet,” Parchment says. “It is easier for little kids to eat it who don’t understand taking off wrappers or where to put it.”
Calling her business Bakery Boutique, Parchment says selling her product is easy. She selects areas where students are awaiting car rides at the end of a school day. Calling her edible wrappers product EDIBO!, she plans to add extracts and flavors to them, so customers can choose the flavor of their cupcakes and their wrappers. Parchment’s cupcake prices are $2.50 and $4.50 with the edible wrapper or the wrapper alone is $1.50.
The Lakeland Chamber sees much future value in sponsoring a program for young entrepreneurs such as these teenagers.
“The students can hope to develop relationships with business leaders in the communities,” says Fortier. “The chamber is hoping they will return to Lakeland (after college) so this is a lot for talent retention as well.”