July 9, 2018

5 ways teens can start their own business or nonprofit

By implementing these steps, the founder of Girls With Impact shows how young people can launch successful ventures

Greenwich High School’s Cathy Senjoyo presents Plait Please, a hair braiding device, that will be less toy-like than other devices, at a recent Girls With Impact event.

When Natalie Miccile applied for an MBA, she was turned down, even though she had already received a doctorate in pharmacy from the same institution. Both Natalie and her parents were at a loss as to the reason and next steps.

In the rapidly evolving workforce of today, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how to help your kids get ahead. It can seem like an impossible mission to understand which extracurricular activities colleges are really looking for.

For Natalie, things changed when she demonstrated entrepreneurial initiative in her college application the following year.

“When I reapplied and documented that I had started a business in the healthcare industry, I got accepted, no problem,” says Natalie. “Not only was I accepted, they showered me with lots of extras—conferences, money and more. I couldn’t believe the difference.”

That’s not just the case for graduate schools, but undergraduate colleges too.

The same has been true of two Girls With Impact graduates who received full rides to college—$200,000 or so—because of their exposure to business.

So, how can you or your student get your business going?

1. Start from a passion.

What do you love doing or what are you good at? Have you noticed a problem or a need in that area–something that could operate so much better if it was done a certain way?

Many top entrepreneurs—from famous ones like Spanx founder Sara Blakely to our own Jess Takami—are developing ideas based on personal experience. Jess, for example, is working on a new type of goggles based on her role as a lifeguard to detect submerged victims and help prevent drownings (watch Jess’s pitch). Another teen, 18-year-old Aishah Avdiu, noticed that, where she lived, there was no place to buy Kombucha, the popular drink. She started a stand in Westport, Connecticut. Here are examples of what other girls are building.

Lean toward STEM if you can–science, tech, engineering and math—as those are the prized skills for the future. Generate some ideas and then zero-in on one that is both a fit with your interests and that’s viable (meaning, it’s not so grandiose that you’ll never get it off the ground).

2. Do some down and dirty research.

You might be passionate about something but if others aren’t, you won’t have a business. Whether your idea is a for-profit venture, nonprofit or community project, you’ll want to get some feedback to be sure it’s an idea that fills a need. Research what competitors are doing.

Then, get feedback on your idea from your target customer. Develop some questions such as: Would you buy it? What price point? What are the most important features?

3. Create a prototype or sample.

Armed with some research and feedback, you’re now ready to create a prototype—a model of how your product or service will work.

How do you envision it? What happens when a user or customer encounters it? What unique features or compelling value can you demonstrate?

Depending on your business, a prototype could range from a visual demonstration on video to a sample brochure to a mock-up in PowerPoint.

Girls With Impact grad Jamie Yee, for example, created No Problem Periods to deliver menstruation kits to homeless women. Her research revealed other similar efforts, but not in her area. She then created her sample kit—with pads, an inspirational quote, and chocolate.

4. Critique the numbers.

Identify all the possible costs of your business. If you think you’re able to make your product significantly cheaper than competitors, you might be missing some costs.

If you can understand when you’ve hit “breakeven”—meaning, the number of items you need to sell to cover your costs—all the better. Nicole Bahidi, 16, says here that doing the numbers, especially the breakeven, really helped her.

5. Match the product with the marketing.

There’s no point in having a great idea or product if you can’t get it to your customer, right? So, be sure you know who your target customer is.

During her Girls With Impact program, Nicole developed customer “personas” to create a picture of the typical person she plans to target. Then she could determine how to best reach them based on their behavior, mindset and money. Do they primarily shop online or offline? Are they sensitive to costs? What needs do they have that Nicole can fulfill?

In the case of Jamie’s No Problem Periods, her primary customers are actually the homeless shelters, not the homeless women themselves. In the case of Jess and her goggles, her customers could be lifeguards, parents, and even hotels with pools but best if she focuses on one primary customer to start with first.

So ask yourself, how can she best reach them most effectively? What marketing tests could you do to be sure that you’ll have success? Depending on your idea, your distribution could range from selling online to partnering with a store.

No matter what idea you have, the key is to be sure it’s achievable. Makeup guru Bobbi Brown started first with just lipstick and then went on to build an entire cosmetics empire.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once. Focus on that single idea that you can actually bring to life—that “minimum viable product” as Bobbi did—and you’ll find your chances of success and impact much greater.

Girls With Impact

Jennifer Openshaw

CEO of Girls With Impact

Jennifer Openshaw is CEO of Girls With Impact, author of "The Millionaire Zone," and a nationally known financial expert who's appeared on Oprah. Follow her: @LinkedIn.