Detroit 'kidpreneur,' 11, is all business

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News


Detroit – — Asia Newson's schedule is exhausting, even for a company CEO.

In one recent week, her agenda included:

■Addressing a crowd at the North American International Auto Show.

■Flying to Los Angeles to appear on Ellen DeGeneres' TV show and collect a $10,000 check.

■Posing for photos with local politicians and receiving commendation from the Detroit City Council.

■Doing her math homework.

Wait. Homework? Yes. At 11 years old, Asia is the owner and CEO of Super Business Girl, a hand-crafted candle-making company in Detroit. So far, the fledgling company brings in less than $30,000 a year.

Asia says she must sell a lot of candles and inspire a lot of kids before checking "run for president of the U.S." off her bucket list.

"I'm an at-risk kid who wants to help other at-risk kids realize their potential and become successful entrepreneurs," said Asia, a straight-A student at Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, a charter school where she's in the sixth grade. "... I want to show other kids, no matter how much you've been through, you can achieve your goals."

The road from her rented house in the Brightmoor neighborhood to the White House could be paved with the colorful candles her father, Michael Newson, 46, taught her to craft and sell for $10 and $20 apiece. She and her dad began selling candles door to door when Asia was 3 years old, to pay the rent and keep the family of two adults and three kids ahead of utility shut-off notices.

While her father hawked candles, Asia soon tired of hearing the same spiel. She thought it would be nice to make her own money to buy candy.

So one day, she interrupted her dad in the middle of his sales pitch, delivered her own and sold her first candle. At 3, Asia was hooked.

The girl who wears sparkly pink lip gloss and eyeglass frames without the glass to create the "nerd look" she prefers, calls herself a "kidpreneur" on her website, www.superbusinessgirl.com. She already has her 30-year life goals in place.

"First I'm going to become a lawyer, then mayor of Detroit and then president of the United States," she said confidently. "So I'm going to go to Michigan State for undergrad studies, then the University of Michigan and then Harvard."

That's why she started in business so early. "I have to make a lot of money for my campaign," she said.

That determination impressed the folks at Chevrolet enough to give her a platform on stage at the Chevrolet Experience Theater during the recent Detroit auto show.

"How many 11-year old girls are giving presentations on the three elements to a power pitch?" asked Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristianna Vazquez. "We only know one — Asia Newson, Detroit's own Super Business Girl."

"Her energy and enthusiasm wowed the crowd," Vazquez said.

Turquoise Neal, principal of Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, said Asia already exhibits leadership skills.

"She came to my office the other day and said she wanted to be part of the team," said Neal. "I wasn't sure what she was talking about, so I asked her what team, and she said the leadership team."

Neal said she was initially taken aback because that's not a common request from an 11-year-old. "So we brainstormed and I said, 'Maybe you can be a student advocate,' so she'll be part of the school improvement team."

During a District 1 community meeting hosted Jan. 24 by Detroit City Councilman James Tate, Asia addressed more than 100 people. She also sold $295 worth of candles in 20 minutes.

"I'm a bona fide fan, and I'm just glad she had a little time for us," Tate said.

State Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, also attended and bought a candle from Asia. "She's paving the way for young entrepreneurs in Detroit," he said.

Asia already has appeared on ABC-TV's "20/20." She has office space at Bamboo Detroit, a downtown business incubator, and a company logo. She also has an employee trainee — her best friend, Tica Parks, 12, who helps her sell candles.

"One day, I hope to open schools teaching kids how to become entrepreneurs," said Asia.

She also hopes to create and sell a nutritious beverage in Metro Detroit schools. For this enterprise, Asia teamed up with Nailah Ellis-Brown, who brews and sells a natural hibiscus tea, Ellis Island Tropical Tea, that's available locally at Whole Foods stores. The pair created a Kickstarter page , with a goal of raising $85,000 in startup funds by Feb. 27.

But it has not been all glory for Asia.

In fact, her mom, LaTasha Thomas, said there were a couple of times when the family was forced to move because her temporary jobs weren't bringing in enough money, and she didn't want to lean too much on Asia.

"We've been financially strapped, but we said we can't put all that burden on our daughter," she said. "We'd sometimes have to relocate because we didn't have enough money. We wanted to put all our effort into building the company."

To do that, Thomas said she quit her assembly-line job to devote full attention to building the business. Asia's father also works to build the business and is a stay-at-home dad.

Michael Newson said he never imagined his daughter would go this far so soon.

"We used to canvass stores, gas stations, Laundromats, and we'd often bring along kids in the neighborhood trying to make extra money," he said. "It sometimes brings tears to my eyes and I can't help but cry when I see her on stage. We're so proud of her."

Asia's family accompanied her to the auto show Jan. 19, and her mom sat beaming in the audience at "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in California, when Asia appeared Jan. 22.

"Sometimes, when you're going after what you want, you have to bend the rules," said Thomas. "Instead of asking if you can go through the door, just go through it. Go rogue."

Asia said she tried to put the hard times out of her mind.

"I didn't focus on that," she said. "I'd just focus on my schoolwork and my business so it didn't make me feel sad."

She also focuses on her award-winning choir class — the same one that received national recognition last spring when its rendition of Pharrell's popular song "Happy" went viral.

During rehearsals for a graduation at the Everest Institute's Detroit campus, Asia was selected to sing several solos, rehearsing old-school classics by Aretha Franklin and the Jackson 5, among other artists.

"Asia is first on her feet when it comes to revamping lyrics to fit the occasion," said choir director Angela Kee.

One of the songs in the repertoire is "I Can," from the album "God's Son" by the American songwriter, producer and rapper Nas.

Asia grabs her imaginary microphone in the choir rehearsal and belts out the lyrics with a knowledge beyond her years.

"I know I can

Be what I wanna be

If I work hard at it

I'll be where I wanna be."

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

'Super Business Girl'

■Find Asia Newson and Nailah Ellis-Brown's Kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1877410736/help-super-business-girl-hydrate-detroit-schools.

■To see her appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," go to http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0-7a1jr42n/.

■To see her on ABC's "20/20," go to http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/meet-11-year-ceo-entrepreneur-detroit-27575213.