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How to raise an entrepreneur

Last Friday, I judged a contest for theNational Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Fort Lauderdale/Broward chapter. The contest to recognize contributions made by women in the community was divided into categories. My favorite was the Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. All I can say is WOW! Talk about juggling responsibilities. The three candidates ages 12-19 launched their businesses while still in school. One of the young women, Shea Gould, is 15 years old and runs a commercial bakery business. As a mother of a teenage girl who complains she can't do chores because she has too much homework, I found Shea's story inspiring.

  From Shea's Website (sheasbakery.com): In 2008, I started selling gourmet cheesecakes and seasonal breads as a way to make enough money to keep baking and developing new recipes. (Good ingredients are expensive!) Suddenly, orders started rolling in, and I was officially “in business”.

Shea now rents commercial space and sells both wholesale and retail. Even more, 10% of ALL Shea’s Bakery profits are donated to charity. During the interview with the judges, Shea, who also is in the marching band, said balancing work, school and friends is challenging. But having a business, she said, "makes me feel independent." She told the judges: "No one is making me run this business. I do it because I love it. You should love what you do."

Shea is being raised by a single mother who works full time, yet she is Shea's biggest supporter, handling the business side of Shea's Bakery. I noticed a commonality among all the young entrepreneurs up for this award - very supportive parents. 

Mystery of the Pasha Diamond-Use Recently, I interviewed Sydney Kramer, a high school sophomore and who started her own children's mystery book publishing business, www.cookiedalmatian.com, when she was 11. Sydney told me she writes at night after finishing homework.  She's had to postpone writing when school gets intense. Sydney made a YouTube video to promote her four-book series. Like Shea, she gives 10 percent of what she makes to charities. She has sold almost 1,000 books. Sydney says she's not sure whether she wants to turn her hobby into her profession but holds out the possibility.

Of course, Sydney also has supportive parents. Her dad, Marc Kramer, an entrepreneur and faculty member at Wharton School of Business, helps her market the books. I asked her dad how as a parent you encourage entrepreneurialism in a child, without turning him/her off?

Marc's answer: "I believe in exposing them to a variety of experiences and see what peaks their interest.  I also believe people are either hardwired to be entrepreneurs or they aren’t.  They have this need to create stuff.  You can force a child to do anything initially, but then they rebel and you have wasted your time and theirs.  Not to mention the resentment for forcing them into something that they didn’t want to do.”

Of course, most kids love the idea of making money for something they enjoy do (adults do too!). Says Marc: “Sydney was interested in starting her own business because she wanted to make more money than what we paid her in allowance."

A recent survey by Challenger Gray found that the number of start ups jumped to a 4-year high in 2009, mostly because unemployed workers saw entrepreneurialism as an alternative to unemployment. I can only imagine how well prepared these young business owners will be for whatever lies ahead.

Do you wish you learned more about being an entrepreneur when you were younger? Do you think parents should encourage kids to run businesses or does it take away from being a kid?