Born This Way

June 30, 2013

A three-year-old with a briefcase at the front door who says, “I go to the office,” is an entrepreneur. Because entrepreneurs are born, not made. You can make ‘em better…but you just can’t make ‘em.

That fact is so true, so basic, that it literally introduces my recent book on entrepreneurship, AdVenture: An Outsider’s Inside View of Getting an Entrepreneur to Market. And while you can strengthen the traits of successful entrepreneurs (the “make ‘em better” part), you really can’t just make one. They come pre-wired for the ride, at very early ages. And there are many successful kid entrepreneurs who prove it.

Take Madison Robinson of Fish Flops fame. Sure, she’s 15 years old now, but she first came up with the idea of light-up flip flops with sturdy soles at the ripe old age of eight. Seven years later, Fish Flops is booming…sales have already surpassed the $1M mark.  And she’s not alone.

There are kids like Jayden Wheeler and Amaya Selmon, founders of Kool Kidz Sno Konez and, at 12 and 11 years old, the youngest food truck owners in Memphis. Or Leanna Archer, 17, who was just nine when she founded a hair products business that today posts annual revenues of $100,000+. Or Lizzie Marie Likness, 11, who founded a growing cooking empire with a website she launched at just six years old. Or 12-year-old Keno Lucas who was even younger when he started his first online business at five—and launched a microfund for kid entrepreneurs with his mom at just 12 that’s still going strong today.

There are many stories like this that illustrate that born-not-made quality in young entrepreneurs. Indeed, the 2012 Gallup-HOPE Index not only found 43% of kids in grades 5-12 say they plan to start a business, but that 40% of girls and 45% of boys say they “will invent something that changes the world.” A 2010 Kauffman poll also found 40% of youth aged eight to 24 want to start or have started businesses, and that 75% of eight- to 12-year olds and 62% of 13- to 17-year-olds believe they can. They’re even learning to access capital at young ages, like teen entrepreneur Jordan Satok who raised an angel round for his mobile app-recommendation platform when he was 17, and $1.8M in venture capital a year later.

So, if entrepreneurs are born not made, what contributes to the realization of this inclination—or as Forbes puts it, the “almost preternatural desire to create or build”? Some say the trend toward youth entrepreneurship is due to the elements surrounding a child: one study found entrepreneurial parents are 60% likelier to have entrepreneurial kids (see supporting PDF); the Kauffman poll found 46% of kids who knew an entrepreneur had the strongest interest in becoming one. Others say it’s a combination of factors, such as the downswing of the economy and the upswing of entrepreneurial education.

Whatever you believe, it’s exciting to watch these budding tycoons spread their entrepreneurial wings and passion. But it’s also important to remember that being predisposed to entrepreneurship is not itself enough. As Zig Ziglar said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner you must plan to win, prepare to win and expect to win.”

Luckily, the growing emphasis on startup schools, business pathways, education workshops and other entrepreneurial mentoring programs are helping kids do that. By equipping them with this key training, confidence and support, we’re creating a future that’s getting brighter, faster…in other words, teaching young entrepreneurial players how to transform themselves into winners.