Column by VerticalResponse CEO/Founder Janine Popick, Inc.com "Basement to Boardroom" March 22, 2012
"People at other jobs treated me as a kid. Here, people treat us as professionals," says 17-year-old Austin Bergeron on why he wanted to start his own business. Austin is co-founder of StudioVictus, a multimedia company that counts the New Orleans Hornets as an official client. (StudioVictus created the team's first mobile app.) He started the company late last year with three friends–all seniors at Destrehan High, near New Orleans–who have similar career interests.
I started my first business when I was fifteen. My babysitting service dominated the neighborhood! But I definitely had no aspirations to turn it into a career. Today, however, there's a growing number of young entrepreneurs who are launching serious businesses with great potential and many of them aren't even old enough to drive.
Helping small businesses grow is my sweet spot, so my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, decided to launch the "Next Teen Tycoon," an online video competition earlier this year. Our goal? To help teens between 13 and 18 years old bring their businesses and business ideas to life with "seed cash" and other prizes totaling more than $10,000.
In a few short weeks, we had almost 40 video entries from kids all across the country pitching an amazing range of businesses, from bakeries to video production companies, online apps to fashion brands, radio shows to non-profits.
Eleven finalists were chosen via public online voting. Out of the finalists, one grand-prize and two second-place winners were chosen by a panel of judges that included Arel Moodie (author, Your Starting Point for Student Success); Daniel Brusilovsky (CEO, Teens in Tech Labs); John Jantsch (founder, Duct Tape Marketing); Nicole Marie Richardson (executive editor, Inc.com); Ramon Ray (editor, SmallBizTechnology.com); Steve Mariotti (founder, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship); and yours truly.
Thanks to the contest, I got to know grand-prize winner Jason Li, age 15, founder and CEO of iReTron, an online e-reuse business that allows people to trade in their old cellphones and other electronic gadgets for cash. In his video, Jason takes us through a few simple steps on how to get a price for your device, ship it and get paid, and it's all done through the iReTron website. Once he receives the phone, he'll inspect it to make sure it's still fully functional and then sells it abroad, where there's still a demand for our "gently used" technology. Although the iReTron site officially launched just late last year, Jason has already completed more than 500 transactions.
As the grand-prize winner, Jason will receive $4,000 from VerticalResponse to help grow his company, as well as a free trip to the TedXTeen conference in New York later this month.
The competition also drew lots of attention to 2nd-place winner Jack Uesugi, age 16, founder of an apparel brand and online community of artists called a1000x (A Thousand Times). Hailing all the way from Wahiawa, Hawaii, Jack found out about our contest through Facebook and submitted his video just a couple of days before deadline. We're glad he made it! Jack will receive $2,000 in "seed cash" from VerticalResponse.
Although he grew up in a family of artists, Jack developed an interest in the business side of art. Ever the entrepreneur (in elementary school, he re-sold vegetables from the farmers market at a profit), he came up with the idea of helping local artists promote and market their work by creating and selling limited-edition, screen-printed tees and other merchandise featuring their designs. With the motto "Give More. Get More," a big part of the business is social entrepreneurship, and Jack is donating a large portion of his company's profits to charity.
Then there's StudioVictus and co-founders Austin, Matt Duhe, Joe Solito and Joshua Stoker, who've all known each other since elementary school. As 2nd-place winners, they also will get $2,000 from VerticalResponse to expand their business. The team helps local businesses with all things related to multimedia, from photography and Web design to music production and presentation consulting. Since forming in November, they've completed about 10 projects so far, with several more in the works.
Check out all three winning videos here. I'm thrilled to support these up-and-coming teen entrepreneurs and expect only amazing things in their futures.
Now that you have an idea of what today's business-savvy teens are up to, tell me: Did you have a business as a kid? If so, what was it?