Teen Tool Time and Other Ventures...young entrepreneurs are taking care of business.
In the world of young entrepreneurs, a.k.a. treps, she has the notoriety of Microsoft's Bill Gates. Search youth entrepreneur Web sites, magazines, the Wall Street Journal and even reruns of the Sally Jesse Raphael talk show and you'll see her name in lights, albeit small ones.
Her name is Kristin Hrabar, 17, and she's from Aberdeen. In the third grade she invented the illuminated nut driver, a hardware tool with a clear shaft and a small laser mounted in the handle that lights the way for tool-toting fix-it types. Since making it to the finals of the state science fair with her project when she was 9, Kristin, with the help of her mom, Donna, dad, Frank, and sister, Kim, has received a patent and trademark for her tool, formed a company, LaserDriver Tools, and mass produced the first units in Taiwan, which the company began selling in November 2002. Kristin has won numerous honors for her product, including Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards and the 25th Annual U.S. Patent and Trademark office Expo, held in 1999 at EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World. "We haven't made any money back because we're so much in debt from getting our patents," admits Kristin, a senior at Matawan Regional High School. "We give a lot of the products away because we want to get them out there. We're still on our first 10,000 units. Once we get those out we can start selling them for the normal $40-$45." The tools are available at www.laserdriverstore.com.
Kristin, who, as vice president of research and development, says she devotes a great deal of time to her young venture, plans to run her business full force after she attends college somewhere in Florida. Even if she starts a new business, Kristin feels prepared for just about any corporate challenge. She has already seen quite a few as a teen trep, including a lawsuit threat from "that Star Wars guy" when she wanted to call her business LightSaber Tools, and the introduction of a rival product from Sears after the huge retailer turned down the chance to market Kristin's illuminated nut driver. "There's a lot to think about when making your own business," notes Kristin. "My advice to other teen entrepreneurs is to keep at it. Don't give up when it gets hard. It gets easier." While stories like Kristin's are impressive, they are by no means extraordinary. Teen business startups are on the rise as the latest generation longs to control its own financial destiny. New Jersey has a variety of programs to help the growing number of teen treps who want to learn more about marketing ideas, starting their own businesses, as well as the world of business in general. The Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University hosted its first Discover Busine$$! Teen Camp at its Florham Park campus in July, and the business school at Rutgers University-Camden offers a similar summer program, Camp Business: A Leadership Program For High School Students, for students from Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, to name a few.
Aspiring teen treps may even have an edge over other business-owner wannabes. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, quoting Bonnie Drew, senior executive vice president of Atlanta-based Youngbiz.com, which publishes a magazine and holds business seminars for teens, youth entrepreneurs "don't know that they can't do it, so they just do it." They also often have a regular allowance to help finance their ventures, can run the operations from their homes and quickly win the support of family, friends and the community.
Michael D. Simmons relied on his mom to drive him to business meetings when, as a sophomore at Hopewell Valley High School, he started a web-development company with buddy and classmate, Calvin Newport. By senior year their business, Princeton Internet Web Solutions, was doing well enough to recruit a new MBA from the University of Rochester as CEO, with an annual salary of $100,000, and hire programmers from India. But things fell apart while Cal and Michael were at college, and the CEO split.
"It was a difficult learning lesson," admits Michael, now 21 and a business major at New York University. "I didn't know how to manage the company's finances so it was not the most profitable venture. In the end, it wasn't about the money. It was about the beliefs and values. Teen entrepreneurship has a lot of intangible benefits. It changed my life." These days Michael and his girlfriend, Sheena Lindahl, run an education epublishing company and recently published their first ebook, The Student Success Manifesto (www.successmanifesto.com). They hope to inspire other teens to develop the entrepreneurial mind-set and discover passion, purpose and prosperity.