Junior-preneurs: Why youngsters are natural entrepreneurs

Beavering away in homes all over New Zealand are scores of junior entrepreneurs who have been making money since they were at primary school. In this five-part series Jane Phare meets some of the country’s budding teen-preneurs, and finds out what adults can do to help kids flourish in the world of innovation.

Fourteen-year-old Seth Evans has made $30,000 selling horseshoe sphere sculptures he first designed when he was 11. Seth’s is a remarkable entrepreneurial story but search a little further – in living rooms, garden sheds and school classrooms – and you’ll find plenty of youngsters doing brisk business with products they’ve developed.

So what’s the secret to fostering a junior-preneur? The key, experts say, is to start them young, the earlier the better, before those internal messages tell them they can’t. Youngsters don’t have that adult “baggage” that slows them down, all those this-won’t-work barriers that stop would-be entrepreneurs from actually starting.

And entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be inherent. It can be taught. Parents or caregivers who are entrepreneurs or have run their own businesses are more likely to encourage their kids to set up ventures to earn their own money. But any child, encouraged – and helped to a certain extent – by adults at home or at school will be able to develop entrepreneurial skills.

Research shows that 25 per cent of pre-schoolers have natural entrepreneurial traits, but by the time they leave secondary school that’s dropped to around 3 per cent.

Terry Shubkin, who describes herself as Chief Excitement Officer for the Lion Foundation’s Young Enterprise Trust, says like other skills children learn, a mixture of encouragement at school and at home at an early age produces the best result.

That entrepreneurial mindset is so important, she says, whether children grow up to be entrepreneurs or work for someone else.

“We need to nurture it from a young age and also make sure that we don’t actually drive it out [of children].”

Seth Evans, of Taupo Bay, certainly showed no signs of adult baggage getting in the way when he announced to his parents that, as part of a school market day project, he planned to make a giant bison rearing up on its hind legs, out of old horse shoes welded together.

His parents, Vicki and Craig Evans, did rein him in a little. How about, they suggested to their then 11-year-old son, that you learn to weld first. So Seth did, out in the man-shed with his creative plumber/builder/gas fitter dad Craig who makes copper sculptures himself. It took Seth about four days to master his welding skills and by then he had simplified the bison idea, replacing it with a sphere sculpture.

Since then, in between attending Kerikeri’s Springbank School and travelling round the North Island to compete in motocross events, he’s sold $30,000 worth of sculptures – money that funds his sport – and has ongoing orders to fill.

Seth says he likes the innovative and sustainable side of being an entrepreneur. “Like the horseshoes, they would have been thrown away otherwise.”

He contacts local farriers who willingly save old horseshoes for him. His mother Vicki collects them, in exchange for home-baked white chocolate shortbread. And whenever the family travels out of town to motocross events, they collect horseshoes from farriers in the district.

Now he makes the horseshoe sculptures in six sizes ranging from 450mm up to 1800mm.

“We’ve never pushed it because he’s always got orders,” Vicki Evans says. “Somehow people find him.”

She laughs about her son’s entrepreneurial streak. “He’ll sell you a piece of cardboard and you will think that you’ve got a bargain.”

If Seth has surplus stock he’ll set up a stall at Kerikeri’s Old Packhouse Market, complete with artificial grass, plants and stable props, to sell and take orders.

The Evans first realised Seth was onto a winner when he took part in the Lion Foundation’s Young Enterprise Scheme in Year 7. He was too young to compete or win a prize but the organisers let him use a spare table to display his horseshoe sculptures. He sold $2300 worth of spheres in four hours.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Evans says. “We were absolutely blown away.”
Entrepreneurship often stems from a problem that needs solving, those who teach the subject say. Seth and his family have spent many a chilly winter night camping at motocross events so he thought an outdoor fire to share with other campers would be a good idea.

He designed a steel flat-pack fire box that can be slid away into a small space when not in use. He called it Byrn, his middle name, and now sells them. Evans credits the support of Seth’s school to dream up new ideas and see them through to the end.

“They [the school’s staff] just nurture everything about business. It’s not all about money, it’s the product and the process of getting there. It just shows you what they can do and how businesses are createdfrom nothing.”

Entrepreneurship part of school's curriculum

As budding entrepreneurs Seth Evans and his 225 fellow students have an advantage at Springbank. The independent school was started in 1996 by entrepreneurs Sophia and Bob Warren who wanted their sons educated at a place that would focus on success, be it academic, sport or entrepreneurial pursuits. One of their sons, Mike Warren, is now the principal.

Set on 14 hectares of what was an old Kiwifruit orchard, Springbank caters for pre-schoolers up to year 13, with an emphasis on extending children,nurturing their ideas and abilities, encouraging them to be entrepreneurs, develop leadership roles, and learning to work as a team.

Springbank’s middle school deputy principal, Michelle Chapman, is credited with driving many of the school’s enterprise initiatives, and runs the Year 7 to 9 programme. She’s taught there for 20 years and, because of Springbank’s values and teaching programme, wouldn’t consider going anywhere else.

Chapman came up with the school’s annual $5 challenge which ran last month. The children had three weeks to make as much money as they could, starting with just $5. Local businesses got in behind the challenge, coming up with $850 in prizes for the most profit made, and the most innovative ideas.

In the past, students have made everything from stickable wax strips for surf boards that are removable, to a netball training device that returns the ball to the shooter. Another group of Year 7 and 8s sourced anti-radiation material from Israel to make protective mobile phone covers.

This year an 11-year-old student made $800 from serving high teas. She used the $5 to print pretty leaflets inviting locals to pre-purchase tickets from her mum for a fabulous afternoon tea (two sittings) and then used some of that money to buy the ingredients.

Last year Seth Evans made Skutes, hand-crafted flies with sinkers for catching snapper. This year he made biltong-style dried dog treats. He hunted rabbits, skinned and boned them, and borrowed a dehydrator from a neighbour to dry the meat. He scrounged bits of wild pork, venison and beef from friends’ freezers to widen the range, and sold the pet treats for $5 a bag at his motocross events.

Vicki Evans says the $5 challenge taught her son about the whole process of running a mini business – from hunting to drying the meat, to packaging and selling it. She’s witnessed Seth’s classmates come up with impressive ideas because they see no reason why they shouldn’t.

“Adults tend to have so much baggage that they think ‘oh that won’t work’ or ‘it’ll be too expensive.’ Whereas kids, if you nurture and help them along they just have so many neat ideas. And they [the ideas] can actually work if you back it and help them, guide them.”

For the school’s annual market day, Springbank’s children are challenged to come up with an innovative product, create a business plan, design the brand and packaging, and then sell the item. They must donate 25 per cent of their takings to a charity of their choice and they can keep the rest of the money.

“The kids love it,” Chapman says. ” We give away thousands of dollars to charity from it.”

The long-term effects of Covid-19, and the unpredictability of careers and jobs means entrepreneurship is tipped to become even more important for future generations.

“Tourism was one of our biggest markets and we can’t rely on that now,” Chapman says. “So it’s our new and forward thinking, and innovation which New Zealand has always been known for that is going to help lead us into the future.”

COMING UP:

Teaching skills: Why entrepreneurship can be taught to kids, and we meet a teenager who funds her table tennis championships with a gift-paper business.
Starting early: Teen contractor Johnny O’Neill hired his first staff member when he was 12. And we meet a teenager who has developed a miniature device for tracking dementia patients.
Finding the right mentors: Young jeweller Twilight Edwards’ earrings are worn by the Prime Minister and we meet a teenager who is making natural pot-plant fertiliser from cafe waste.
Why social enterprise is important: We look at some of the community projects young entrepreneurs have got behind.

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