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Child Entrepreneurs: Not Your Average Lemonade Stand

Last week, as I was leaving the dog park, a child approached me and asked if my dog was a “good boy today”. I chuckled and told him “of course”! He then asked if I would like to purchase one of his home made dog cookies to reward him. After watching my dog gobble up the carefully made, bone shaped “cookie”, he turned to me, and with overt eye contact, a smile on his face and a glint of charm in his eye, he shook my hand, and said “it was nice doing business with you”.
I bought 10 more cookies.
This 9-year-old kid was no ordinary dime-a-dozen lemonade stand entrepreneur. His vegan peanut butter dog treats were wrapped in a beautifully designed paper wrapper, displaying a company name, logo, and phone number “where you could order more”. I give it 3 years before this young whipper-snapper is the richest 12 year old in the world…. I hope he will be.
My encounter with this child has left me delightfully dumbfounded. The way he interacted with me shows that his business is not a product of parental pressure. He was clearly innovative, a great marketer, and possessed a natural ability to close a sale. Way to go lil’ dude! After a little research, I have learned of many other micro-mega-noggins. One thing that has really struck me, however, is the lack of emphasis put on child entrepreneurs. While some may argue that kids should stay kids, I believe in supporting a child who has a a leaning towards business. A woman called me today here at thinkspace to tell me about a new young business owner here in Seattle. After getting his information (I will contact him this week), we had a discussion about they way our school system prepares children to become good employees, rather than nurturing entrepreneurial minds. She had a lot of great points.
I would love to hear your opinion on this, and get feedback on this topic in general. Also, we are seeking child entrepreneurs to interview, please use the comment forum below for commentary, and email me at Barbara@thinkspace.com to nominate the lil’ business brain that you know of!
Here is the story of a fella that has been featured all over the country as one of the best new brains- Jason O’Neil, the creator of Pencil Bugs. He is truly inspirational!
A Note from Jason O’Neill, Age 12 Pencil Bugs
When I was 9 years old, I had an idea to make a product that I could sell at a craft fair.  I’ve always liked school.  I get good grades but I know school is hard for many kids.  I started thinking about ways to make homework just a little more fun. That’s when I came up with the idea for Pencil Bugs.

With the help of my parents, we bought the supplies and made my first Pencil Bug.
I wanted to make them unique so decided to give them each a name and birth date. To keep them healthy for a long time, care and training instructions were also important.  I decided that a Certificate of Authenticity was the right touch to include with each Pencil Bug.
I hand paint each head in one of the eight colors.  I use twisted black wire for tiny antennas, glue on small googley eyes, and attach black fuzzy pipe cleaners for their bodies that wrap around the pencil. They are removable so you can still use the pencil eraser.   In fact, if you leave them a little higher than the eraser, they’re quite fun and boingy .
After a few months, I came up with the idea of making t-shirts to match and then started making laminated bookmarks in all 8 colors of Pencil Bugs .

* Text taken from http://www.pencilbugs.com


  • Alyssa Magnotti

    August 4, 2010

    So great to read about the genius minds of these little ones! It's absolutely amazing! Really excited as we delve into more and more of the information on these mini-entrepreneurs!

  • Peter Chee

    August 4, 2010

    That is truly an inspiring story! Thanks for writing this.

  • Ming

    August 5, 2010

    Great post! Loved loved the picture of the dog! I wonder in all of us that have businesses if when we were kids if we didn't have some of that entrepreneur spirit in us. I remember being 5 years old and cutting all the neighborhood kids hair, had them all lined up. No, I'm not hairdresser today though 🙂

  • Judy Dunn

    August 5, 2010


    Very interesting post and, as a former educator and principal, a topic near and dear to my heart.

    I agree that the schools are not doing that great a job of identifying and encouraging our students (especially the younger ones) who have the entrepreneurial spirit.

    But I think that the real issue is that we aren't really presenting all the options to our kids, and at an early age, when their brains, attitudes and behaviors are still in the formative stages. That is when they should be exploring. Learning about careers, including business ownership.

    But at the same time, we cannot lose sight of the fact that some of our students will become artists, teachers, judges and lawmakers and our society needs them, too.

    I had the honor of securing grant funding to keep a phenomenal program running at Talbot Hill Elementary School in Renton, WA. The school went on to become a Gates Foundation Model School (with the grant money that went with that) and an Intel Corporation 21st Century School of Distinction.

    The program was called MicroSociety and the whole curriculum was based on a mini-society, a community the kids were in total charge of within the walls of their school.In addition to businesses, they have their own cops (called “justice keepers”), court system, IRS, television station, newspaper, even nonprofits like museums. The greater community is very involved. For instance, a real judge came in to show how to run a trial and how to try to bring the parties together for mediation/dispute resolution to avoid a trial.

    I could go on and on, but this is integrated learning at its best. Kids have a reason to learn math and reading and communication skills because they can see how they are connected to the real world.

    And running businesses not only teaches the kids about profit/loss, products and services, advertising, etc., but student also learn that they must 1) work in order to be paid, 2) cooperate in order to get a job done, and 3) plan ahead. And don't we all need those skills, no matter what job or situation we end up in?

    This is just one school, but wouldn't it be interesting to have followed these kids in a longitudinal stuff (the program started in 1994)? Because my gut tells me that some of them have probably gone on to do great things.

    Link to Seattle Times article:


    Thanks for making me think.

  • BarbaraLEvans

    August 9, 2010

    Wow! Thanks Judy. I just read the Seattle Times article, and tweeted it. Thanks so very much for sharing your thoughts on this. As mentioned in the post, it's a topic that has me pondering quite a bit lately. I agree that the collective society needs great minds, as much as the entrepreneurial world, it does seem odd, however, that our schools largely nurture the former, and seem to forget business ownership as an option. BTW- MicroSociety sounds awesome! Thanks again Judy. Please email me anytime to further our discussion on this topic! Barbara@thinkspace.com

  • BarbaraLEvans

    August 9, 2010

    Great! How did all of the kid's parents feel about you cutting their childrens hair at age 5? Ha ha. As for me, I've been a business owner since I could walk. I remember being about 7 and begging my dad to teach me how to make Gin and Tonics, so I could “sell them” at our family reunion. I made a killing that day!

  • Andrea S. Rogers

    August 20, 2010

    I love this story, so inspiring. Encouraging our children to bring their ideas to life will help them grow into strong & courageous adults. Thank you for posting this, it’s a great reminder to do that everyday – even if you aren’t a parent.

  • Shonda McCartyKearns

    August 21, 2010

    I have to say, as the mother of a 11-year-old who has visions and has drafted much of a business plan for the next great “lip gloss for nerds” rage, this is inspiring. Thanks for posting…we are both encouraged!

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