When you hear about kids like Abbey Fleck, who helped her parents achieve their dream home, adopt a few more kids and put all five through college on her Makin’ Bacon money, it makes you wonder, how did she do it?
Well, if we’re honest, it makes you wonder how your kids can become entrepreneurs — and maybe millionaires — too.
We talked to several kid inventors and their parents about just what makes them different from the rest of us. What are they doing that we’re not?
The good news is — you don’t have to give up your TV. Sure, some of them are home-schooled and watch ZERO hours of television per week, like Oink-a-saurus inventor Fabian Fernandez-Han but Cassidy Goldstein, inventor of the crayon holder, said TV is where she gets some of her best ideas. Admittedly, she’s usually making jewelry or doing something else while watching TV, but still, it’s OK — even helpful.
Some kids had a way in — their parents were inventors (like Fleck) or CEOs (like Sarah Bucknel, who invented Magnetic Locker Wallpaper). Others competed in contests through organizations like By Kids for Kids or FIRST Robotics (like Fernandez-Han, Nicholas Fornario, who invented the Tic-Tag-Tac vest, and the Inventioneers, who invented the Smart Wheel.)
Still, Fernandez-Han’s dad said he thinks it’s important to teach kids not just to solve problems — but to find them.
Here are six tips from the kids and their parents for how your kids can become entrepreneurs, too.
1. Get them started experimenting young. It’s not enough to just teach your kids — eat your dinner, clean your room, do your homework, says Norm Goldstein, the CEO of By Kids for Kids and the dad of crayon holder inventor Cassidy Goldstein. Give them a lot of different things to tinker with. Cassidy, for example, used to make animals out of pipe cleaners or clay while she was watching TV. Some kids respond to “artsy” materials like pipe cleaners and clay, others may be more technical with Legos. Whatever it is, let them find out what they like and what they’re good at and, most importantly, give them the encouragement and confidence to take it to the next level. And don’t just stand above them — get down on your hands and knees or sit with them at the table to help them or just to give them encouragement, Norm said.
2. Take your kids seriously. It’s easy to park them in front of the TV, say “Don’t touch that, I’ll do it,” or laugh off an idea they come up with as “Oh, those kids and their crazy ideas!” But one thing every kid, every parent said was that it’s so important to take your kids seriously. When a household problem arises, like Cassidy and her broken crayons, ask them, “What do you think we should do?” Or, if your kid has an idea, like Hart Main’s idea for the man candles, say, “OK, let’s figure out how to make them.” Whether your kid becomes a millionaire or not, it will be an amazing lesson in business and a super shot of confidence that says, “Hey, I can do it!”
3. Don’t do too much — or too little. Kids can only do so much, Cassidy points out. They need parents’ help to take it to the next level. Or, to simply look at the child and say, “That’s great! Now what?” Keep pushing them to take it further. By the same token, you have to be careful not to do TOO much. KK says her mom was very involved in the business, but let KK do a lot of the legwork. It’s so easy for a parent to take over the kid’s school science project — but you have to resist that urge, KK explained. Hart’s mom said you have to allow them to try things — and even fail sometimes. “Let them make their mistakes and learn from them,” she said. “It’s hard when you see that they’re setting themselves up for failure. Hard to let them feel pain. But, when they feel that pain, they’ll realize that it doesn’t hurt as much as they think it would — and they keep moving.” And, she quickly added, with the family’s signature sarcasm: “I have never tripped them on purpose.”
4. Don’t waste time. If your kid has a good idea, don’t waste time developing it right away. First order of business: Check if someone else has a patent on this idea. You can do that very easily through the US Patent and Trademark Office web site — . If you spend time producing a product that is already out there or that there’s no demand for, that’s wasted time — and money.
Then, poke around, make some calls. Call that family friend who makes candles, Like Hart did when he was starting Man-Cans. Find out about other companies in the business, potential manufacturers, etc. Send 100 letters to Walmart asking that they sell your product, like Abbey. And, never underestimate the benefit of good PR — even by your mom. KK says her mom’s PR campaign was crucial to the success of the business taking off!
5. Plug them into networks for young inventors. There are tons of organizations offered right through school they can join to get hands-on experience in being an inventor and entrepreneur, including Odyssey of the Mind, and . Plus, organizations like Girl Scouts, Boy Scoutsand 4H also develop a lot of these leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
And, there are tons of competitions they can enter that will give them a good starting point. Intel and Google each have a science competition. By Kids for Kids is basically a clearinghouse for all kinds of competitions sponsored by companies — not just math and science competitions, but in all different types of categories including arts and athletics. Even if they don’t go on to become an entrepreneur or kid millionaire, it will build valuable life and business skills. Plus, there’s usually a cash prize involved, which gives a nice boost to their piggy bank to help fund their invention, pay for college or help them get a jump-start on saving.
6. Be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to the business. All of the kids talked about missing out on fun time with their friends because they had to work on their business many nights and weekends. Parents, too! Look at KK’s mom, who took over the business while KK went off to college and then explored the world for a few years after that. That’s not to say that they had NO fun, just that it required discipline and dedication. But, that work ethic paid off — not one of these kids became divas, asking that their M&Ms be separated by color, when they hit the big time! Hart still finds time to work at soup kitchens, Abbey works with autistic and other special needs kids and KK, in addition to running her company, is a firefighter in her town.
Watch Cindy Friday, Sept. 30 on the “Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda,” with special guest host Ben Folds, as she demonstrates some of these products invented by kids and offers tips for how your kids can become entrepreneurs, too.
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