Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. But before the arrival of the Internet and the popularization of startup culture, it was safe to assume that most were adults when they achieved meteoric success. This is certainly not the case anymore. With some grit and ingenuity, kids these days are able to develop thriving enterprises.
In this article, we explore how seven teenage entrepreneurs are creating globally-recognized brands, building million-dollar businesses, and making a big difference. Who said that youth is wasted on the young?
1. Rowan Winch Built an Empire of Memes
Like many teenagers, 15-year-old Rowan Winch of Pennsylvania spends an excessive amount of time on his phone. Whether it’s before boarding the school bus, between classes, during lunch, or at home, you’d usually find him buried nose-deep in the glowing screen of his iPhone XR. But unlike most teenagers, Rowan wasn’t just passing the time with his phone — he was building a meme empire.
By mining the Internet for viral content and sharing around 100 posts per day on Instagram, Rowan was able to amass 1.2 million followers for @Zuccccccccccc (his account name inspired by the name of Facebook’s Founder and CEO). Achieving this level of popularity opened up new opportunities for income. Rowan began selling ad spots on his account to other teenage entrepreneurs promoting their own endeavors.
Memes were far from Rowan’s first business venture. In the past, he had dabbled with reselling merchandise like stickers and designer clothing. He also tried his hand at dropshipping and selling personalized shout-out videos on Fiverr. But none of these projects compared to the success Rowan saw with Instagram. At one point, his account was bringing in at least $10,000 per month.
But on July 26, 2019, Rowan received a jarring notification: @Zuccccccccccc was disabled. Before panicking, he chalked this up to an error. After all, he had been wrongly penalized before. Unfortunately, this time was no mistake. Instagram had just purged numerous popular meme pages from its platform, and Rowan’s happened to be one of them. The reason why? Violating policies, according to a spokesperson from the company.
While such an event would leave many entrepreneurs down and out, Rowan has taken it in stride. In the absence of @Zuccccccccccc, he’s started a podcast and continues to post to his personal Instagram account, which has 60,000 followers. He also still posts to two other Instagram pages, each with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Rowan is laser-focused on rebuilding his online influence, and he thinks he has found the perfect platform to start anew: YouTube. Inspired by famous creators like PewDiePie, Rowan has already posted a few video commentaries on topics such as Instagram and mental health.
He knows growth takes time, but Rowan isn’t afraid to put in the work — especially with such grand goals to reach: “With YouTube, I want to get big enough so the people that inspired me are my friends.”
2 and 3. Caroline and Isabel Bercaw Made a Million-Dollar Splash in the Bath Bomb Business
At the ages of 11 and 12, Caroline and Isabel Bercaw knew one thing: They loved bath bombs. In fact, the two entrepreneurs liked these fragrant, fizzy balls of fun so much that they decided to try their hand at making them. What started as a hobby soon turned into an obsession. But what the duo didn’t know was that this passion would eventually become a multi-million-dollar business.
In 2012, the Bercaw sisters eschewed typical middle school activities in favor of experimenting with different bath bomb recipes. Besides coming up with new aromas, they also implemented off-the-wall ideas, like including a hidden toy in the center of their scented creations.
As with many entrepreneurial ventures, the Bercaws’ business had humble beginnings; after making a few bath bombs in their basement, the pair tried selling these products at a local Minneapolis art fair. They sold out fast, and the duo quickly realized they had a potential hit on their hands. Not long after, Da Bomb bath fizzers were born.
Fast forward to 2015: 30 local shops in the Minneapolis area now carried Da Bomb products. But Caroline and Isabel still believed there was room for greater growth — and they were right. After taking a trip to Atlanta for an international trade show in 2016, the two sisters made a deal to sell their bath bombs in stores across the United States. By this point, Isabel recalls, “We were making 20,000 bath bombs a month in our basement.”
Eventually, Target reached out and wanted to sell Da Bomb bath products in 1,800 of their store locations. To accommodate this increase in demand, Caroline’s and Isabel’s mother took over CEO duties while the duo concentrated on marketing and product development. They had outgrown their basement operations and moved production and storage to a nearby warehouse.
Today, Da Bomb bath products can be found nationwide. The Bercaws’ business is still completely self-funded and generates more than $20 million a year in revenue.
4. Sanil Chawla Helps Other Young Entrepreneurs Hit the Ground Running
As a high school sophomore, Sanil Chawla had grand ambitions: He wanted to launch a web development startup. But his aspirations to monetize his favorite hobby soon hit a brick wall. “… There’s just so much red tape for young founders,” says Sanil. “I was under 18, so I couldn’t file legal paperwork or get a bank account on my own.” Around this time, Sanil also realized that, while there were plenty of events like hackathons to teach students technical skills, none of them provided any sort of legal and financial guidance or infrastructure.
Not one to be discouraged, Sanil investigated ways to lower these common barriers for young entrepreneurs. He eventually honed in on fiscal sponsorship, a practice in which nonprofits help small endeavors with similar missions by extending their legal status and back-end support to them.
Soon after this discovery, Sanil’s focus shifted. Instead of his original idea, he started developing software to automate the mountains of paperwork he encountered. As a result, Hack+ was created. This nonprofit organization disrupts existing legal processes by providing free fiscal sponsorship to student-founded charitable organizations. “If we can manage all the legal and financial stuff for these young founders, they can focus on their mission, their goals,” Sanil explains. “It will open the door to so much impact.”
Since 2017, Sanil and his team have helped 926 student entrepreneurs launch over 50 organizations that have made an impact on more than 50,000 students around the world. Hack+ has now garnered the support of tech titans like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. And it’s also partnering with Slack on the launch of a new version of its platform that will focus on supporting for-profit startups.
Now 19 and a sophomore student at the University of Southern California, Sanil has been named a 2019 Forbes “30 Under 30” winner in the “Education Under 30” category. He was the youngest person to be featured in this category.
But while Sanil has already achieved a lot, he shows no signs of slowing down. “Hack+ is just getting started,” he says. “Our goal is to impact 1 million students by 2020, and we’re well on our way!”
5. Langston Whitlock Simplified Medical Transportation Logistics With an App
Langston Whitlock was volunteering with his friend Ja’Nese Jean at a local outreach event in Atlanta, Georgia, when they came across a colossal problem plaguing their community. “A homeless veteran told us that [many people in the area] don’t have transportation to get to medical appointments,” explains Langston. “Ja’Nese turned to me and said, ‘Can you make an app for that?'”
In 2018, Ja’Nese and Langston launched SafeTrip, a ridesharing app for the homeless and elderly that allows patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers to book non-emergency medical transport and emergency medical transport.
With SafeTrip, users can choose to schedule their ride or travel on demand. SafeTrip’s patented technology allows them to pay for rides with debit, credit card, or various forms of insurance. And, like Uber and Lyft, the app offers real-time ride tracking and a rating system to ensure safety and quality. It even gives users the ability to choose between premium cars or vans, wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and ambulances if needed.
So far, SafeTrip has raised $2 million in funding. Last year, it made $3.4 million in revenue. Ja’Nese acts as CEO of the company while Langston serves as CIO and manages a team of 10. The fact that his entire team is older than him doesn’t bother Langston one bit. “We have a great bond… They love me cause I’m a kid, I guess.”
Like Sanil Chawla, Langston became one of the youngest entrepreneurs to make Forbes’ 2019 “30 Under 30” list. And although he works at SafeTrip full-time, he’s still on track to graduate from high school in 2020.
As for what comes after? “My mom has worked since I was little, and my goal is for her to have her ultimate happiness,” Langston says. “So whatever it takes, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
6. Mikaila Ulmer Is Saving Bees With Lemonade
When Mikaila Ulmer was only four, it was already clear that she had an entrepreneurial spirit. While brainstorming what product she’d submit to the Acton Children’s Business Fair and Austin Lemonade Day, she got stung by a bee. Little did she know that she was also struck by inspiration.
While her first encounter with bees was scary, Mikaila ended up becoming fascinated with the creatures. She learned just how important they are to humanity and our ecosystem. Around this time, she also received a recipe for flaxseed lemonade from her Great Granny Helen in Cameron, South Carolina.
After some thinking, Mikaila had an epiphany: She could make her Great Granny’s flaxseed lemonade and sweeten it with local honey — and donate a percentage of the profits towards bee conservation groups. Me & the Bees Lemonade was born. And it was a sweet concoction destined for success from the start.
As the years passed, Mikaila would consistently sell out of her lemonade at youth entrepreneurial events, where she’d often speak as a voice of guidance for other young business owners. In 2015, she appeared on “Shark Tank” and received a $60,000 investment from Daymond John. And she even got to introduce former U.S. president Barack Obama at the 2016 United State of Women Summit!
Today, Mikaila is 14. You can find her speaking at numerous entrepreneurial conferences and engagements, as well as leading workshops on how to save honeybees. Over the past decade, Me & the Bees Lemonade has sold more than 1 million bottles across 1,000 U.S. stores and won several awards. It can now be found at big stores like Whole Foods Market and Macy’s. Of course, the company continues to donate 10% of all its profits towards bee conservation efforts.
But while all of this is undeniably impressive, it’s really just the beginning for Mikaila. Besides launching a new line of lip balms infused with beeswax, Mikaila has also launched The Healthy Hive Foundation; a nonprofit focused on research, education, and preservation for honeybees.
Balancing all of these ventures with school is no easy feat. But the ambitious teenager wants the world to know that age is not a barrier to successful entrepreneurship. She says, “No matter how old you are, you always have something to learn. And no matter how old you are, you always have something to teach.”
7. Kenan Pala Empowers Kids to Help the Homeless
When Kenan Pala was only 11 years old, he saw how cold the world could be. On a beach in San Diego, he spotted a sick homeless person asking for help. But to people passing by, he may as well have not existed. “They just drove by, walked by, biked by,” says Kenan. “They treated him like he was invisible.”
The event made a strong impression on Kenan, now 15. After doing some research, he discovered that homelessness was a serious issue in his hometown; San Diego has the fourth highest homeless rate among major U.S. cities. In October 2016, Kenan led a team of several kids to construct a cardboard mosaic in an effort to raise awareness about the local homeless problem. The art piece officially broke the Guinness World Record for being the largest of its kind.
Inspired by this project, Kenan eagerly donated as much of his time as possible to soup kitchens and other causes to help fix homelessness. It was then that he found out he couldn’t volunteer at a great number of these organizations due to his age. “There are a lot of nonprofits doing great things in San Diego, but many don’t allow kids under the age of 18 to volunteer,” explains Kenan.
To address this quandary, Kenan founded Kids4Community, a nonprofit that aims to introduce kids to philanthropic work, in January 2017. By collaborating with charitable organizations, Kids4Community enables kids of all ages to volunteer. Kenan says, “If you have the passion, you can come.”
So far, Kids4Community is a resounding success. Kenan has managed to raise $1 million to benefit various local homeless causes while engaging more kids than ever before to participate in them. Kids4Community has made such an immense impact that the mayor of San Diego officially declared January 23, 2018, to be “Kenan Pala Day”!
When Kenan graduates high school, he hopes to keep Kids4Community’s momentum going by letting Arden, his 10-year-old brother, take the reins. Kenan says, “I would like to hand off the organization to my brother, who is also very passionate about volunteering. When I graduate high school, he’ll be a little older than I was when I started.”
For Entrepreneurs, Age Is Just a Number
These young entrepreneurs are proof that no matter how old or young you are, you can always make a significant impact on the world — all it takes is a little inspiration and determination. We hope you’ve taken away some ample motivation for your own endeavors.
Which of these stories was your favorite? Are there any young, ambitious entrepreneurs that you think we should write about next? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.