Not your grandfather's entrepreneur.
With the Internet bringing information to our fingertips anywhere at anytime, standing on the shoulders of giants has never been so easy. Instead of dusty libraries and ad hoc basement workshops, sites like Entrepreneur Connect, StartupNation and PartnerUp allow innovators to share information and collaborate on projects like never before. While creative types of all ages use these services, sites like Young Entrepreneur exist specifically for the younger generation of business owners looking to make it on their own.
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The result? Kid millionaires. Using computers and the Internet to research new ideas, develop prototypes and market products, a new generation of Web-savvy entrepreneurs is proving that young, creative minds can create smart, profitable businesses.
Nature vs. Nurture
Those who are uncomfortable with the idea of kids making a ton of money may be quick to dismiss the young entrepreneurs, arguing that it's just another example of parents living their dreams through their children. But while parents inevitably play a role in some areas -- arranging patents, incorporating businesses or providing the occasional seed funding -- they more often take the role of providing encouragement and assistance.
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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
One thing is certain: our society is fascinated with prodigies, and successful young entrepreneurs capture the attention of the public.
Interviews on TV news programs and profiles in major newspapers create buzz that often paves the way for more venture capital while at the same time generating a market for the product being featured.
Besides the desire to bet on a proven winner, young entrepreneurs are attractive to financiers precisely because their youth gives them an in with the hard-to-target teen and tween market. Investors are always chasing new markets, and it's no wonder that venture capitalists will take a risk on a young entrepreneur with a good idea.
The Next Generation
Leading off our overview of young entrepreneurs is Neha Gupta, a 13-year-old from Pennsylvania who started Empower Orphans when she was just 9 years old. Since then, the nonprofit has raised $30,000 for orphans in India thanks to Gupta's fundraising activities: selling handmade greeting cards and wine charms. With a goal of raising $20,000 in 2010, Gupta is well on her way to a successful career in philanthropy.
Silicon Valley has long been a seat of innovation, so it is only natural that one of the most successful child entrepreneurs hails from California's tech corridor. Anshul Samar, now 14, started a gaming company in 2008 to market a role-playing card game that teaches chemistry. After clearing $1 million in revenue in his first year, Samar won a $25,000 grant and is now working to raise $100,000 in venture capital for his company, Elementeo.
Remington Anne Smith
When 9-year-old Remington "Remmi" Anne Smith recognized the growing problem of childhood obesity, she decided to do something about it. Having always enjoyed cooking with her mother, she decided to create Cook Time With Remmi, a cooking show for children to teach them how to prepare simple and healthy meals. The show, which Remmi hosts alongside her mother, is being broadcast on local television, and discussions are underway to expand the program nationally.
At 13 years old, Aitan Grossman takes climate change and the future of the planet very seriously. As evidence of this commitment, he founded the environmental nonprofit KidEarth to raise awareness of climate change. Key to his efforts is the song "100 Generations" that Grossman wrote and has since been used to promote environmental awareness. It has been distributed by school districts around the country and even the United Nations. Grossman donates all proceeds from sales of the song on Amazon.com and iTunes to environmental charities.
Leanna Archer, 13, decided to form her own beauty products company when she was 8 after receiving compliments on her hair, which she treated with a unique pomade that was passed down through her family. Today, Leanna's Inc. pulls in more than $180,000 a year selling a range of hair care and beauty products online and in salons around the country.
For 10-year-old Anastasia Snyder, knitting is more than a hobby. After a year perfecting her technique, the California native started a company, Lovin' It Loops, to sell her purses, cellphone socks and change purses. Priced at $10, $6 and $4 respectively, Snyder's products are featured in a local store and sold online.
The idea for 10-year-old Samantha Senechal's business, Sammy's Dog Treats, came from where so many great ideas do: the library. After checking out a book on how to make biscuits for her Boston Terrier, Senechal started selling the treats to friends and family, and the operation now brings in more than $1,000 a month. With an almost $90,000 investment from her parents, Sammy's Dog Treats is poised to ramp up production significantly.
Making it Work
Our second group of entrepreneurs features young people a bit farther along the path to making a living out of entrepreneurship; they have capitalized on the ventures from their pre-teen years, and in some cases built business empires on them.
By age 10, Kelly Reinhart had invented her first product, sold her first company and started a nonprofit to teach entrepreneurship. Her design for the T-Pack, a variation on the fanny pack that is worn on the thigh, went on to sell for $1 million and her success inspired her to start the Kelly Reinhart Education Initiative to teach entrepreneurship to other children. Now 18, Reinhart writes children's books.
Building on a technology class project that he developed at age 12, Ben Casnocha founded Comcate Inc., a software company that provides solutions to public agencies looking to improve customer service and increase staff efficiency. Now 19, Casnocha maintains a busy schedule lecturing on entrepreneurship at schools and organizations worldwide while he runs the company that now has annual revenues of $750,000.
Making money was far from Juliette Brindak's mind when, at age 10, she started a Web site for tweenage girls aimed at building self-esteem and positivity. The site, Miss O and Friends, has risen to become one of the most popular Web sites for girls aged 8-14, with millions of unique visitors every month. Now 20, Brindak is a successful author and continues to run the site, valued at more than $15 million.
It's hard to imagine being a millionaire at age 14, but that is exactly what Farrah Gray achieved after starting his own business selling homemade body lotion and bookends at age 6. The following years saw Gray embark on numerous ventures, both for profit and for charity, with success building on success. Now 24, Gray has his own real-estate brokerage, his own online magazine and publishing company and an impressive list of books he has authored on entrepreneurship and empowerment.
An innovator in the purest sense, Abbey Fleck saw the need for a way to cook bacon in a more healthy way and at age 8 designed a product to do just that. The Makin' Bacon microwave bacon cooker was a smash hit, with an initial deal to sell in Wal-Mart stores across the country. Now in her 20s, Fleck still co-owns the company that brings in more than $1 million in revenue every year.
After starting a local discussion Web site in his native India, Suhas Gopinath came to the U.S. to start a company at age 14, because Indian law prevents minors from starting companies. Now 21, Globals Inc. employs 400 people in 11 offices around the world and produces Web sites and software for a variety of clients under Gopinath's leadership. Already a workaholic, Gopinath shows no signs of letting up in his quest to run a successful business.