AKAILAH WATKINS, CO-FOUNDER AND CO-director of I AM, puts to rest the old adage that children should be seen and not heard. Starting in business at the age of nine with a lemonade stand, Watkins helped launch I AM (which stands for "Imagine, Accept and Materialize") when she was 14, using money she had collected from selling salvaged furniture at garage sales. "Kids were just hanging out on the streets with no place to go and we provided an alternative," says Watkins, now 19.
Owned solely by young people, I AM is dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and increasing self-sufficiency. While the company is not-for-profit, its bylaws stipulate that it can offer support for profit-making kids' businesses. In this case, making money is no kids' stuff: last year, the organization brought in an impressive $150,000.
A full-time sophomore at Queens College in New York City, Watkins hires all the members of the 30-employee staff, which includes only two adults. As an outgrowth of her love for entrepreneurship, she started her own cookie business last year. With an initial investment of less than $100, Watkins' "no name" chocolate chip cookie venture soon begin to take off. However, as with many adult business owners, she soon found herself unable to meet the high demand.
"We didn't have a big enough stove and were putting in a lot of time, but we weren't getting enough profit," explains Watkins, who notes that it cost her more to make the cookies than what she was selling them for (25 cents). So, she put the business on hiatus, until recently. Thanks to a donation of two commercial stoves, Watkins is now ready to start up again. She hopes to expand her core market, which has been family, friends, churches and community groups. For her future, she envisions big profits in dough.
Like many of her entrepreneurial peers, Watkins understands that running a business is a viable career option. For some, it's an alternative to going to college; for others, it means extra dollars for the summer. Whatever the motivation, the skills and experience gained are well worth the effort.
It's never too early to expose children to the fundamentals of business, emphasizes Dawnyielle Peeples, program developer for BE's Kidpreneur Konference, which recruits renowned instructors and businesspeople to teach youth the basics of entrepreneurship. "Children have a very clear understanding of the value of money and can be taught simple money management skills from the time they learn how to count," explains Peeples. The easiest way to get your child involved in entrepreneurship, she continues, is to "have them turn a hobby into a business. Don't put your children into a particular area. Let them gravitate toward something they enjoy. You just provide structure and support."
Parents should "talk about business at the dinner table," suggests Juan Casimiro, executive vice president of EDGE, a New York-based company that teaches entrepreneurship. He recommends tearing out the business section of the newspaper and having your children discuss the articles.
There are two types of businesses that are good for children, according to the experts. One is direct selling. It's the easiest to start and teaches kids the fundamentals of business. "It allows young...