Young Launchers | In The Press
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In The Press

Children & Families: Tweens, teens excited about entrepreneurship

By SUE HOFFMAN  Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 11:45 pm

Ananya Madhavaram, 10, left, Sarah Liao, 11, and Angela Li, 10, crafted their friendship bracelets at the Entrepreneurship for Kids program at the Solon branch library.

For Ananya Madhavaram, 10, a summer library program on entrepreneurship provided the perfect combination of business and pleasure.

A month before the program began, Ananya, a rising sixth-grader at Orchard Middle School, started her own business making Japanese kumihimo friendship bracelets. The centuries-old technique involves braiding threads in a variety of colors and patterns.

“I really love making bracelets,” Ananya said during the four-day “Entrepreneurship for Kids” program held last week at the Solon branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. “It’s what I’m passionate about.”

Crafting a bracelet with paracord, Ananya said she signed up for the program to learn how to become an entrepreneur. “I was really excited when I learned we’d be making bracelets.”

On day three, Ananya was not only designing bracelets, but also understanding the skills of operating a new business. “I learned that quality is important. And it’s important to talk to customers about what they want because the customer is always right,” she said with a grin.

Like Ananya, many of the 25 students in grades five to nine who attended last week’s program, totaling 16 hours, found the lessons and crafts engaging and worthwhile.

“I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and have been watching ‘Shark Tank’ on TV for several years,” said Akhil Penumudy, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Solon Middle School who handled the marketing, advertising and websites for his group. In the program, he said, “I’ve learned concepts and formulas for business, how demand works and how to price a product.”

“The whole goal is to have enriching activities with the hope of igniting the kids’ entrepreneurial spirit,” said Lynn Buchinsky, who created and presented the program this summer at the Solon and Beachwood branch libraries. “In the process, we are teaching them 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.”

“The program is a nice addition to our summer offerings,” commented teen librarian Leslie Banks. Other teen programs range from book buddies and volunteering to robotics.

Ms. Buchinsky, a resident of Solon for nearly 20 years, has created and grown multiple businesses. A member of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, she was featured in Time Magazine’s Global Business Edition in 2007 for developing Little Racquets, a tennis-themed educational program for children. She headed Little Racquets for nearly a decade before selling it in 2015.

“Having created and sold that business proves that dreams can become reality,” said Ms. Buchinsky, who was assisted in the library program by Abby Soble and Morgan Friedman. With a bachelor’s degree in sports management and master’s in business administration, she has worked in brand and product management for Rubbermaid, Sealy Posturepedic and nonprofit organizations. She is also adviser of venture initiatives at Kent State University’s LaunchNET, a cross-campus program which promotes entrepreneurial thinking.

In the library program, Ms. Buchinsky said she emphasized “hands-on, fun, age-appropriate experiences.” Students played games, role played, brainstormed ideas, created prototypes and simulated their dream business launch.

Divided into five groups, students learned how to develop a new product, create targeted marketing, and design sales materials. Working collaboratively, they created a variety of friendship bracelets, decided on brands ranging from “Migobands” to “String n’ Beads,” and developed their sales pitch.

Their bracelet ventures were only the beginning. The groups went on to develop ideas for other businesses, including several that would help solve community problems. On the last day, students pitched their team businesses in a competition a la “Shark Tank” on television. Their brands included greenhouses for schools to grow their own food; a pet rescue/no-kill shelter that also provided pet tracking devices; care packs for homeless kids; a multi-sport athletic shoe; and a school that teaches coding to businesses aiming to build their own websites.

Throughout the program, Ms. Buchinsky gave participants STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities, marketing tools and the basics of building a good company.

“Collaboration is our buzzword,” Ms. Buchinsky said. “They’ve become so immersed in their roles as CEOs and CFOs. They’re competing on their brand, buying materials from the stores we set up and coming up with intricate designs for their ventures.”

“I figure one day, I might start my own business,” said Sheldon Lovejoy, 14, who will be a freshman at Solon High School. “Making a business is hard, but it’s worth it.”

Like Ananya, Cehan Ahmad, a fifth-grader at Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland, had already started the creative juices flowing before the summer program began. With his model for a child-safe automatic door, Cehan has qualified for the Ohio Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Competition next month in Columbus.

“I want to be an entrepreneur,” said Cehan. The summer program helped him along the way. In addition to learning business skills, he said, “I learned how to work with people.”