Meet one of Little Rock’s own kid biz phenoms, and learn more about how Arkansas is working to inspire the next generation of business owners
By Angela E. Thomas
The lemonade stand ... it’s as American as apple pie. In fact, this form of kid entrepreneurship dates back to 1879, when it was first reported by the New York Times. Fast forward to the 21st century where children as young
as 4 1⁄2 are launching businesses with great returns.
One such youngster is Kyleigh. This pretty little ball of energy launched Kyleigh’s Lemonade Stand last May. “It’s important that I teach Kyleigh how to be an entrepreneur,” said Gabrielle Williams, the 7-year-old’s mother. “She’s young, but with this business she’s learning how to count money, build a savings and run a business.”
Williams owns an online boutique, so she understands the principles she’s teaching her daughter. “I saw my Mommy doing her business, and I wanted to do a business too,” Kyleigh said.
The business began in 2016 with a lemonade stand in Williams’ parent’s front yard. “It was something for her to do during the summer. You know, kids get bored in the summer,” Williams said. “We did well with the small stand, and that inspired our vision to expand. The food truck allows Kyleigh’s business to be mobile.”
Soon afterward, Kyleigh was featured on “Good Morning America.” The video went viral and has had more than 3 million views—and it’s all been uphill from there. The daughter-mother duo took the winter off; however, they’re already booking parties for this spring and summer.
Hearing about the success of others is often just the spark that budding entrepreneurs need. Author and Arkansan Erica Swallow hopes to provide that catalyst through her EntrepreneurKid series. It’s a series of four
books that tell the stories of four kid business owners: Gabrielle Goodwin, owner, Gabby’s Bows; Jason Li, owner, iReTron; Sebastian Martinez, owner, Are You Kidding Socks; and Rachel Zietz, owner, Gladiator Lacrosse.
“I kept seeing these headlines about young kids’ businesses. They were intriguing, but I was frustrated by the way the media sensationalized their stories. My goal is to normalize the idea of entrepreneurship for kids,” Swallow said. “There are quite a few kids starting businesses. It’s easy now. Kids are some of the greatest creators in the world, and many of them are starting businesses to solve problems they see around them.”
This type of ingenuity is just what Arkansas Capital Corporation hopes to inspire. Each year since 2006, the company’s nonprofit affiliate Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation has sponsored the Youth
Entrepreneur Showcase, or Y.E.S. “The showcase gets young people thinking about starting businesses by solving problems in the marketplace,”
said Leslie G. Lane III, executive vice president, COO and president of affiliates. “The students who participate in the competition look at the world a bit differently than you and I, and this competition encourages them to look at everyday life and to find a better way to do things. It’s a process. They go from the inventor phase, then take their inventions to the next step to see how people can use them.”
Lane said Y.E.S. competitors generally begin with simple ideas, such as addressing the issue of backpacks in classrooms. For instance, students bring their backpacks in the classrooms and hang them on chair backs or lay them on the floor. This causes a safety hazard, creates crowding and a distraction, so a student created a backpack tower.
“Another year, a student created a lamp shade with compartments so his family would have some place to put their change and the contents of the pockets when coming home at the end of the day,” Lane said. “Our goal is to empower them. It’s up to the student to figure out the problem and its solution.”
Students from schools, after-school programs, churches and other organizations form teams of two to six members, put together a business plan, which includes details of their innovation/product, how they plan to
market it, the cost and more. The top 25 teams participate in Expo Day, during which they set up a booth at Park Plaza in Little Rock and show off and sell their products. The students compete in the categories of best
business plan, best marketing, best retail booth and most innovative.
“They receive feedback from the judges and it validates their efforts and helps them believe in what they’re doing,” Lane said.
Of course, taking an idea from concept to actuality takes a bit of hands-on work, and that’s just what youngsters do at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock.
“We introduce youth to all kinds of tools to help them bring their ideas to fruition,” said Errin Stanger, director of programs, membership and events for the Hub. “This includes laser cutters, 3D printers, a ceramics studio, a
screen printing studio ... we have a good number of tools necessary to start a business. Along with this, we also teach life skills as well as workforce development. We help kids turn their hobbies into businesses.”
Currently, 65 children, ages 10 to 17, gather after school each Tuesday through Thursday for weekly art and “make” sessions.
“We blur the lines between the makers and the artists. For instance, our art students can design a piece and use an etching tool to cut that work into wood,” Stanger said.
This summer, the Hub will host a summer camp for children 8 to 17 years old. Older youth may purchase a 2018 Creative Teen Art membership, which is $75 per week; they gain access to the Hub’s tools and participate in workshops and free time to create.
The Hub as well as the Y.E.S. competition provide judgment-free zones in which the children flourish. “They’re out-of-the-box thinkers, who don’t know what they don’t know. They’re passionate about their ideas and
apply a simplistic approach,” Lane said. And, he added, while competing, they also learn how to collaborate, assign roles, and perform team work.
Speaking of teams, Swallow noted that while each of the youth entrepreneurs is creative, they have something in common: parents who, like Williams, back their children and invest time, energy and money into their children’s dreams.