At D.C. fair, biz kids run their own shops

Young en­trepreneurs learn les­sons in sales — and take home cash

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY KATHER­INE SHAVER

Is­abella Ior­dache ar­rived at Satur­day’s fair for bud­ding kid en­trepreneurs in Cleve­land Park with a new game plan: cap­tur­ing the boy mar­ket.

Her hand­made head­bands had been a hit with girls, she said, but ap­par­ently boys weren’t so into hair fash­ion. So 8-yearold Is­abella, a se­cond-grader at Ho­race Mann Ele­men­tary School in D.C., re­cently ex­panded into key chains made from plas­tic Shrinky Dinks art­work.

“I thought about what boys might like,” she said. “I know boys like key chains.”

It was ex­actly the kind of les­son that or­ga­niz­ers of the third an­nual D.C. Ac­ton Chil­dren’s Busi­ness Fair said they had hoped the 125 pint-size ped­dlers would learn from start­ing their own busi­nesses and test­ing their sales skills with more than 3,000 passersby on Con­necti­cut Av­enue NW.

“It’s learn­ing by do­ing,” said David Kirby, who co-founded the fair with his wife, Ni­cole Spencer. The cou­ple plans to open a pri­vate preschool and ele­men­tary school in the District fo­cused on en­trepreneur­ship.

“We chal­lenge the chil­dren to be com­pletely in charge of their own busi­ness and ask the par­ents to step back and al­low their chil­dren’s pas­sion to do the work,” Kirby said. “When you do that, it’s as­ton­ish­ing what they can do.”

The event started in Austin in 2007 as a way to pro­mote en­trepreneur­ship among chil­dren and has ex­panded to more than 100 ci­ties world­wide. The kids, ages 6 to 14, de­velop a busi­ness strat­egy, mar­ket their prod­ucts, hone their sales pitches and set their prices.

In ad­di­tion to try­ing to make a profit, they com­peted for $50 prizes for best busi­ness po­ten­tial, best sales pitch and best orig­i­nal mar­ket­ing.

Some had busi­ness cards and a web­site. A few had their own YouTube chan­nels and Facebook pages. Prod­ucts in­cluded hand­made cake pops, or­ganic dog bis­cuits, slime, jew­elry, bath prod­ucts and book­marks.

Se­ma­iah Luma, 10, sold some­thing she said she’d never seen in a store: Col­or­ful African out­fits, com­plete with head wraps, for Bar­bie dolls.

“You usu­ally just see pink clothes or plain casual clothes,” said Se­ma­iah, a fourth-grader from Bal­ti­more. “You don’t re­ally see African clothes.”

Rasa Thevenot, 11, said she got the idea for her “Fizzy Fun” line of home­made bath prod­ucts af­ter see­ing bath bombs sell­ing in stores for $8 a pop. The col­or­ful spheres fizz up in the tub.

“I went to Lush and saw all of these things, and I was think­ing, ‘These are very ex­pen­sive. I could make them at home for half the price,’ ” said Rasa, a fourth-grader at Hay­cock Ele­men­tary School in Falls Church, Va.

Three sev­enth-grade friends from Alice Deal Middle School in the District touted “Nook in a Book.” Gabby Bennett, 12, said they gath­ered old books from around their homes and re­con­fig­ured them in­side to make se­cret com­part­ments for jew­elry, money, even a cell­phone.

“And if you want to hide candy from a sib­ling, it’s a good place to put it,” said Juliet Franklin, 13.

Sales were going well, they said, but not as well as last year, when their booth was closer to the cen­ter of the fair.

“We’ve learned lo­ca­tion mat­ters,” Juliet said.

“But we did have a re­turn­ing cus­tomer,” added Hadley Carr, 13.

“Which was nice,” Juliet added.

Be­cause they’d had books and materials left over from last year, they said, the money they’d make would be pure profit — more than $150.

Fletcher Shull, 9, came from New­port, R.I., to sell home­made blue­berry, mango and sweet potato dog bis­cuits from a bright red bike. (Hence the name of his busi­ness: the Bis­cuit Bike.)

The bone-shaped bis­cuits had been a big hit with his four dogs, he said, and he thought peo­ple would go for the “or­ganic” la­bel.

“They’re made with 100 per­cent or­ganic flour and baby food,” Fletcher said.

His fa­ther, Justin Shull, said he brought his three chil­dren to the fair be­cause they liked sell­ing le­mon­ade in the neigh­bor­hood. He said he and his wife, Jen­nifer, wanted them to know what it was like to start a busi­ness, like the Kin­der­wagon stroller com­pany they started when their chil­dren were younger.

“We thought it would be a great ex­pe­ri­ence to talk to cus­tomers face to face, think about their prod­ucts and think ev­ery­thing through,” Justin Shull said. “We wanted to teach them that it’s not easy to run a busi­ness.”

By the end of the three-hour fair, Is­abella es­ti­mated her boy­tar­get­ing key chains had helped her bring in more than the $200 she made at last year’s fair, though she hadn’t counted her prof­its yet.

She said she didn’t know whether she wanted to be an en­tre­pre­neur some­day, but she knew she would donate some of the money she made to char­i­ties for di­a­betes and brain can­cer.

“And I’m going to save some,” she said, “for col­lege.”

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Fletcher Shull de­liv­ers dog treats that he makes at his home in New­port, R.I. His busi­ness is called the Bis­cuit Bike.

Cousins Jaylen Man­ley, left, Josh Bar­row-Adams and Elisha Adams show off some of their wares, in­clud­ing aroma-ther­apy bracelets.

The third an­nual Ac­ton Chil­dren’s Busi­ness Fair hosted more than 120 young en­trepreneurs in Cleve­land Park on Satur­day.

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