Every kid in America knows the drill: Go to school, get good grades and someday, after years of really hard work, you can be a success. But what if you could skip a step?
We found a few enterprising students who did just that, starting their own booming businesses long before they earned a high school diploma. Here are the stories of how three young entrepreneurs overcame adversity, dodged logistical obstacles and overcame the doubts of adults who underestimated them. The common thread? In each case, tenacity—and a great idea—prevailed.
Danielle Bowman, La Canada, Calif.
Drawing from Experience
Danielle Bowman was sketching before she could talk. As a child with autism, she didn’t speak until after age 4. Kids’ TV shows helped her connect. “I was raised by cartoon characters,” she says. “They gave me the tools to create different worlds.”
Bowman dreamed of becoming an animator. At age 11, she brought her aunt a stapled-together sheaf of drawings to sell. Her aunt urged her to think bigger, so she started her own animation business. Bowman called her company Powerlight Studios and gave it a pink lightning-bolt logo to represent her personality. “I have a little spark of action,” she explains.
That spark is evident as Bowman, now 19, speaks excitedly about the books she’s illustrated and the animated series and short films she’s created. She loves to share her enthusiasm as a speaker at animation camps for special-needs kids. She encourages them to focus on skills, not deficits. “I tell them to turn their talents into a job,” she says. Bowman hopes Powerlight will grow into a Disney-sized studio one day, one with an autism-friendly environment where she can hire people with disabilities. Her ultimate goal? “To change how the world views what peoplewith autism can do,” she says.
Andrew Miles,Silver Lake, Ore.
Baling Himself Out
Andrew Miles, an Oregon farm kid, was never a stranger to hard work. But when his father was killed in a farm accident, the then 14-year-old went into overdrive: He used the family’s equipment to start his own business, working long summer nights baling hay for his uncle and his neighbors.
“My parents expected me to work hard,” Miles says. “It’s what you do. You think about the future.”
Meanwhile, Miles maintained a 4.0 GPA and captained the wrestling, baseball and football teams, earning himself a scholarship to Oregon State University. He saved his profits and bought a 125-acre plot to grow alfalfa. Now a 19-year-old college sophomore studying agricultural business management, he plans to continue running his summer hay-baling business while also cultivating the family land and his own plot with his brother. “I’d encourage young people to look into agriculture,” he says. “It might be hard, and you might not get paid really well. But you’ll have a job. The
world has to eat.”
Megan Grassell, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Megan Grassell’s big idea started with a trip to the mall. Then a high school junior, she’d taken her 13-year-old sister bra shopping but was dismayed by the choices. “They were mostly padded, push-up, very sexualized bras,” she recalls. “Where are the bras for girls?” she asked her mom. “If no one else is going to make them, I will.” She collected sample fabrics, hired a seamstress to make prototypes, and found a manufacturer willing to do small production runs.
The first shipment of Yellowberry bras, named for the color of a “young,” still- growing berry, arrived in February of her senior year—and sold out. While classmates planned for prom, Grassell was managing bra orders, marketing and raising capital via Kickstarter. “I had to give up a lot,” she says.
But what frustrated her most was when people didn’t take her ideas seriously because of her age. “I’m very stubborn,” says Grassell, a state ski slalom champion who’s off to Middlebury College in Vermont next February. The brush-offs, she laughs, left her all the more determined to make Yellowberry succeed. For her, it’s about passion—the desire to help empower young girls. “Once you find something that you really truly love,” she says, “It’s more than just a job. It’s feeding your soul.”
More Young Ones to Watch:
It’s no secret that billionaire businessmen Mark Zuckerberg (facebook) and Bill Gates (microsoft) started their now iconic businesses in their dorm rooms. But did you know that Fred DeLuca founded Subway at age 17 and today lists a net worth of $1.5 billion? Here are a few bold- faced business folk who launched their empires while their peers were still cramming for exams.
If you haven’t heard of Justin Anderson, 27, you will soon. at age 16, he created anderson Trail chewy granola. Today, his Woats oat snacks are sold in Super Targets nationwide, and the company offers $1,000 college scholarships every year to kids who use their passions to impact the broader community. (woats.com)
As a teen, Jamail Larkins became a distributor of aviation equipment and training materials to pay for flying lessons. His atlanta-based company, Ascension Aviation, now sells and leases general aviation airplanes. (ascensionaircraft.com)
Sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder, now 24 and 27, got their entrepreneurial start as teenagers in Jacksonville, Fla., retailing jewelry they’d constructed using their dad’s old medical tools. after college, they took their Dannijo products big-time, leveraging social media to transform their designs into a line of chic must- haves. (dannijo.com)
At age 6, Farrah Gray, now 29, painted rocks he found, then sold them as doorstops to his neighbors in chicago’s inner city. By age 14, he’d made his first million. He’s now an author and publisher, running a foundation that teaches kids about business. (farrahgray.com)
When Sean Belnick was 14, he used $500 to start an online direct-shipping company for office chairs. Today, Bizchair.com is worth tens of millions of dollars and counts the pentagon and Google among its customers.
At ages 15 and 17, siblings Catherine and Dave Cook created an online social site for teens, with seed money from their older brother Geoff, a Harvard student and young entrepreneur. in 2011, myYearbook (now meetme) merged with Quepasa, a social media company for a latino audience, in $100 million deal.
Steve Jobs was a 21-year-old college dropout in 1975 when he and Steve Wozniak created Apple computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance,” said Jobs in a 1995 interview.
Help for Young Entrepreneurs:
- A number of organizations offer education and inspiration for aspiring biz-kids.
- Junior Achievement is a non-profit that teaches entrepreneurship and work skills to schoolchildren nationwide.
- Independent Youth aims to inspire students to start businesses through teen mentoring and introductory lessons in entrepreneurship.
- The National Federation of Independent Business’ Young Entrepreneur Foundation fosters the spirit of enterprise through scholarship programs and by offering school curriculums in entrepreneurship.