Column: Support young, local entrepreneurs

Geneva Ruppert Wise and Stacey Mehler

Opening up a lemonade stand is a classic summer pastime for kids. It’s a great way to learn the basics of economics, budgeting and even a little bit of cooking. But most kids won’t take their lemonade stand beyond their own block.

One who did was Mikaila Ulmer. She was fascinated by bees, and used a family recipe for lemonade sweetened with honey for her business debut at the Acton Children’s Business Fair in Austin, Texas. Four-year-old Mikaila caused a stir with her delicious drinks, positive attitude and philanthropic message — she wants to save the bees.

Mikaila is now 13, and her business has grown into Me and the Bees Lemonade, sold at many grocery chains, including Whole Foods. She continues to donate some of her proceeds to organizations that fight to protect and preserve honeybees.

Her story is emblematic of the way young business owners can change the world and their communities. Experiencing entrepreneurship at a young age won’t lead every kid to a nationally distributed product, but it teaches the value of hard work and promotes courage, perseverance and self-esteem. Giving kids the opportunity to try is so important. That’s where the Acton Children’s Business Fairs come in. They’ve grown from Mikaila’s first fair in Austin to become a nationwide phenomenon.

Some of Michigan’s young entrepreneurs will participate in the third Detroit Children’s Business Fair at the Detroit Historical Museum next month. The fair is completely free and open to the public, and it gives kids a safe space to sell more than just lemonade. Snacks, accessories, home decor and marshmallow shooters will all be for sale. In addition to having the chance to earn a profit, each child is eligible for $100 prizes that a panel of judges will award to the most promising businesses. In each fair, we have seen more and more motivated kids join us to learn and be inspired.

Some kids are serial entrepreneurs who come to each fair with a new idea they’d like to try out. Some kids are already committed to their plan, coming to the business fair with several years of business ownership already under their belt. But there’s one important rule that applies to all: Kids must do as much of the work themselves as possible.

One such young entrepreneur is Ceciley Boynton, who owns and operates Kraftabulous Kreations. She’s worked to build her business for the last several years, and this will be her second experience at the Detroit fair. Customers at last year’s event praised her wallets, bags and other accessories as better and of higher quality than similar items in department stores. It was no surprise when she won the award for most business potential last year.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of a children’s business fair is the way these children think about their business. Even those who don’t plan to continue operating after the fair ends are on a mission. They don’t just want to make money; they want to improve their community and their city. Some of their profits will undoubtedly go to buy Legos and video games, but almost every business has another mission, too — to help its school, the environment, or the city itself.

Detroit grew out of entrepreneurship and invention, and those qualities are obvious in the next generation at each children’s business fair. Come and check out the new lemonade stand for yourself!

Geneva Ruppert Wise is outreach and publications coordinator at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Stacey Mehler is senior director of programs at Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan.