When you hear the word “entrepreneur,” you probably think of a seasoned grown-up running his or her own business, or at the very least, a scrappy college student building a technology startup in a dorm room.
You might not imagine a middle-schooler sitting at the helm of a successful enterprise in between chores and homework assignments. If not, then you haven’t met Jack Bonneau, the 11-year-old CEO behind an ambitious lemonade franchise called Jack’s Stands.
Bonneau, who was only eight years old when he founded his Broomfield, Colo.-based startup with the help of his supportive parents, is one of a growing crop of kidpreneurs going into to business to change the world for the better.
“I help kids experience entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and develop social and life skills,” Bonneau said, “all while having fun and making money at my marketplaces and stands.”
He’d originally started his company with the goal of saving up for a $400 Star Wars Death Star Lego set his father said he had to pay for on his own. But the scrappy youngster soon realized, more than just acquiring another fancy toy, he could empower other budding kidpreneurs by example. He could show them how to open up their own lemonade stands at nearby farmer’s markets, and, later, mentor them on the importance of giving back to your local community through charitable donations and volunteer service, both of which he does regularly.
Here are four more amazing kidpreneurs on a mission to make the world a better place through their businesses, while proving that successful entrepreneurship knows no age limits:
1. Maya Penn, founder of Maya’s Ideas
When she was just eight years old, environmental activist, artisan and computer coder Maya Penn spun her creative handsewn fashions and accessories — and budding entrepreneurial drive — into her own eponymous business. Named Maya’s Ideas, her company makes and sells responsibly-sourced, eco-friendly clothing, scarves, jewelry, purses and other trendy wares.
“We live in a big, diverse and beautiful world, and that makes me even more passionate to save it,” Penn said in her recent TED Talk. “But it’s never enough to just to get it through your heads about the things that are happening in our world. It takes to get it through your hearts, because when you get it through your heart, that is when movements are sparked. That is when opportunities and innovation are created, and that is why ideas come to life.”
Putting her passion for purpose-driven business into action, Penn donates 10 to 20 percent of her profits to local and global charities and organizations that address issues she is passionate about, including women’s rights. She also launched her own nonprofit, Maya’s Ideas 4 The Planet. The organization spreads environmental awareness and encourages girls to follow their dreams in non-traditional career paths.
2. Jeremiah Jones, founder of JYoungin
Like Maya Penn, Jeremiah, aka “JYoungin,” Jones, dove headlong into the busy yet rewarding life of an entrepreneur at the age of eight. Following in his father’s footsteps in the promotional T-shirt printing business, the Long Beach, Calif. native launched his own clothing line, also called JYoungin, in 2009.
He had the thirst for entrepreneurship at age six, but it took him two years to sell his father on the viability of his company’s concept.
“My father didn’t believe in me as much as I believed in myself,” Jones said in his confident TED Talk. “Just because we’re so young, and I know we don’t run things around here, but, hey, we still have big dreams as well as you guys [adults].”
His biggest dream is to inspire other kids in his Southern California city and beyond to resist joining gangs and doing drugs, and, ultimately, to embark upon their own social mission-based entrepreneurial paths instead.
“I like inspiring my own peers and seeing them actually take what I say and put it into action,” he said. “I also get the chance to be boss, and my parents work for me.”
Doubling down on JYoungin’s social mission, he launched his own nonprofit organization to encourage area kids to focus on carving out community leadership roles while resisting peer pressure.
“The JYoungin brand and nonprofit are about academics, sports and character development,” he said, “and that’s why we’re out here supporting our community, giving homeless people the clothes and food that they need, and hosting positive workshops for teens. If you have the determination to be successful, you will be, but it starts with giving back in your own backyard, and that’s what we do.”
3. Alina Morse, founder of Zollipops
Like most kids, Alina Morse has always loved candy. However, knowing that it’s bad for her teeth, she tried to steer clear of it, even when offered suckers by tellers when visiting the bank with her father, Tom Morse, the co-creator of 5-Hour Energy.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Why can’t a sucker that’s delicious actually be good for your teeth?’” the 12-year-old budding entrepreneur said when asked why she created her successful “clean teeth” candy line. “The answer was Zollipops, lollipops that help you keep a healthy smile while enjoying sweets.”
The Wolverine Lake, Mich. native was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug young, launching Zollipops when she was only seven years old with an assist from her dad and grandparents.
“It’s kind of in my blood,” Morse said.
Instead of teeming with the typical tooth decay-causing sugar, the colorful pops — available in a variety of breath-freshening fruit flavors — are sweetened with alternative ingredients, such as stevia, beetroot juice, maltitol syrup and xylitol.
To get her business off the ground, Morse bootstrapped Zollipops with $7,500 her grandparents gifted her as an initial investment. Today, her sweet, safer-for-your-smile lollipops are available online on Amazon.com and in grocery stores, including Whole Foods and SuperValu.
Infusing her goal of helping others into her fast-growing enterprise, she donates more than 10 percent of her profits to U.S.-based nonprofits and other organizations. Each aims to reduce occurrences of childhood tooth decay through community outreach and education.
“My first invention, at the age of three, was a robot that goes to work for your family,” she said. “I started inventing because I wanted to help people. I also wanted to make mom’s life easier.”
4. Rachel Zeitz, founder of Gladiator Lacrosse
Lacrosse, originally invented by native Americans hundreds of years ago and now the fastest growing sport in America, is a fun and competitive team sport.
There’s only one problem: It’s very expensive, an unfortunate fact, especially so for many kids who’d like to play but can’t afford to. For an idea of how pricey the game can be, consider that a typical first-time player could spend upwards of roughly $600 to $1,000, just to step foot on the field with all of the required gear (stick, pads, helmet, cleats, gloves and more), never mind team dues, donations and other inevitable fees.
Rachel Zeitz, the 16-year-old daughter of an accomplished entrepreneur and an attorney, is on a mission to make lacrosse more affordable — and accessible to kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds — by providing relatively inexpensive yet durable lacrosse goals and ball-bounceback practice nets. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based varsity lacrosse player does just that via Gladiator Lacrosse, an incredibly successful startup she founded at the age of 12.
Today, the company clocks an estimated $1 million-plus in annual revenues, far surpassing Zeitz’s wildest dreams.
“I knew I wasn’t the only lacrosse player out there who was let down by the available equipment,” she said while pitching the celebrity judges of ABC’s Shark Tank in May 2016. “So, I decided to design and manufacture my own.”
To sharpen her gameplay, Zeitz’s coaches encouraged her to play “wall ball,” (bouncing a lacrosse ball off of a wall with a stick and catching it, over and over again). “But the quality of the products I purchased for use in my backyard would not hold up to the weather outdoors and they were too expensive,” she said.
While Zeitz toyed with the idea of inventing her own line of sturdier, more cost-effective lacrosse practice equipment, she happened to be enrolled in a local Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) program, co-sponsored by the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and Florida Atlantic University.
The mentors of YEA! showed Zeitz how to tailor a business plan around solving a challenge she faced in her own daily life. She also received a $2,700 grant from the 30-week youth business boot camp to roll out a website and to order product supplies from a manufacturer.
“That’s where the idea for Gladiator Lacrosse was born,” she said.
Today, Zeitz’s specialized lacrosse items are top-rated sellers on Amazon.com. Her lacrosse goal net retails on the popular e-commerce site for $89.95. Compared with bigger, more widely recognized competitors’ goal nets, which typically sell for between $200 and $300 each, that’s a pretty great deal.
“The business community has been incredibly supportive,” Zeitz told People magazine. “But I made it more of a thing; I kept telling myself ‘You’re too young. You can’t do this.’ Then I realized, ‘I am doing this — I’m running a company that’s worth millions of dollars.’ It’s pretty crazy.”