The Emergence of the Teen Business Owner


When I graduated from high school a mere ten years ago, no one told me I could be a business owner. They told me to go to college, get a degree, make money. That was it. Today I don’t profess to have any business savvy. I wonder if that would have been true if programs like Entrepreneurship Week, USA had been around at that time.

Starting February 24 and running through March 3, this event hosted by The Kaufman Foundation of Kansas City will hold nationwide programs to bring education of the business world to American high schools (Hofman, Mike. “Reading, Writing, Running a Company.” Inc. Feb. 2007: 21-22.). As a group that constantly funds projects to educate the young on real world business concepts, The Kaufman Foundation hopes to introduce the idea of being an entrepreneur to the next generation of high school graduates.

For this article, Hofman interviewed Carl J. Schramm, the head of The Kaufman Foundation of Kansas City and author of the book “The Entrepreneurial Imperative.” According to Schramm, the idea of holding a week to focus teens on business education isn’t original to the states. Great Britain already has an Enterprise Week supported by the BBC and already utilizing thousands of programs across the country. One of these is to bring each high school student to visit a young company.

While up until now most high school students haven’t been given a passkey into the world of business, Schramm finds it encouraging that they know about the minds behind big name web projects like MySpace and Facebook. He admits that not every student will be an entrepreneur. It is a big step in education when business ownership can be taught to students as a possibility for their own future.

In a related article (Sauer, Patrick J.”A portfolio of young business owners.” Inc. Feb. 2007: 23-24) Patrick Sauer turns the spotlight on six high school students that have already started their trek into the business world. These 17 and 18 year olds are already well into their own businesses and probably know more about the workings of the entrepreneurial world than most adults.

As you may have guessed, most of these teens have found their portal to success through the World Wide Web. Laima Tazmin, a 17 year old from New York City, started her own website design company, LAVT, as a freshman. She currently manages “20 ongoing projects” and has gone through “10 freelance designers.” She hasn’t even started college yet.

Another New York City student, 18 year old Omar Faruk, is the CEO of a Web company that helps nonprofit customers with limited resources. Started three years ago, Bluestream was the product of Omar’s long hours at the computer learning web design. Now his biggest worry is making the grades to get into college.

Then there’s Jake Fisher and Weina Scott, 17 year olds from Miami and Rochester, Minnesota respectively. They’re online friendship turned into a business partnership when they developed Switchpod, a podcasting company that sells packages for about $30 each, or gives them away free to companies who take out an advertisement with them. Scott was already a seasoned entrepreneur at the time, having started her own website design business at 13.

The internet is not, however, a must have for a young entrepreneur. Derin Coleman and Rayneshia Rodgers, 17 year olds from Oakland, CA and friend since the 7th grade got their start in the business world by manufacturing chrome belt buckles. Bling Buckles sell for $25 a piece and are sold mainly at functions held by BULD, a Bay Area program that does its own part to teach low income schools the ins and outs of entrepreneurship.

Together, these two articles made for a powerful read. The idea of teenagers being given access to the business world so early shows that steps are indeed being taken to broaden educational horizons. While not every teen will find their niche in the business world, it gives them a wider range of options to choose from post-graduation. The education itself is also a confidence booster.

Had I been given some information on entrepreneurship, I would like to think that I’d have at least a little more sense of what happens in the business world. The teenagers profiled in the article are amazing, not only because they’ve started their own businesses at such a young age, but because they’ve taken the chance to immerse themselves into the adult world. While others are avoiding responsibility, these kids are embracing it, giving me hope that not all high school students are the slackers that media tends to make them out to be.

I hope that Entrepreneurship Week, USA is only the first of many companies to step up and start educating youth about the business world. For parents with teenagers, I highly recommend checking out the website (see link in the reference section) or keeping an eye open in your own area for entrepreneur education programs. If today’s youth is our country’s future, programs like these are a good way to ensure that our future is a positive one.

Small Business Advice: How to Spot Difficult Customers

Small Business Advice

Small businesses depend on regular customers who return to the business again and again for services. And in order to grow, entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for new customers in need of the services the business offers. But one bad customer–one who doesn’t pay bills, who makes impossible demands or who requires inordinate amounts of employee time— can drain the business. Learning to spot these difficult customers ahead of time and head off problems can save more time and resources for the kinds of clients that will help the business grow and succeed.

The Micro-Manager

This person wants to control every detail of the project. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a customer who cares about a project and wants to be involved, but presumably the client hires a contractor because of the contractor’s expertise. Customers who demand constant accounting, who want numerous meetings and frequent detailed reports may eat up more time than the project warrants.

Signs the Customer May be a Micro-Manage:

  • Insistence on numerous (unpaid) meetings before the client is willing to make a commitment.
  • Frequent changes/additions to the details of the project in the planning phases.
  • Insistence that things be done the client’s way, even when the client isn’t an expert.

The Penny Pincher

Everyone wants to save money these days, and to survive, small businesses must be competitive. But stingy clients may be reluctant to pay bills on time or in full, and can leave a contractor with more headaches than the job is worth.

Signs the Customer May be a Penny Pincher:

  • Insistence on ignoring regulations, permits, or safety in the interest of saving money.
  • Excessive cutting corners.
  • Numerous complaints about rates, supply costs, etc.

The Scam Artist

Most businesses are honest, but occasionally contractors run into scam artists who set out from the beginning to cheat them. Some people think they can take advantage of small businesses, which may be more desperate for work or who may not have a corporate legal department behind them. Scammers lie, don’t pay the bills, and may disappear without notice.

Signs a Customer May Be a Scam Artist:

  • Has a bad reputation with other contractors.
  • Changes stories often or is evasive about basic information such as where to send bills or who will be paying.
  • Frequent turnover of employees, addresses or bank accounts.
  • Unwilling to offer references.

Solutions for Problem Clients:

  • Refuse to do business with them. Especially avoid scam artists.
  • Ask for partial payment up front.
  • Build in extra hours/money in the contract to allow for more meetings, phone calls, time spent on certain jobs.
  • Detail all expectations and consequences in the contract.
  • Call their bluff. Some micro managers and penny pinchers will back down if alerted from the start that their behavior is unacceptable.

Small business owners should always trust their instincts when dealing with clients. If the client sets off alarms early in the relationship, it might be best to look for business elsewhere.