14 Teen Entrepreneurs and How They Succeeded
One of the great things about entrepreneurship is that you can become an entrepreneur at any age.
Some famous entrepreneurs begin at university; for others, starting their own business is something they only begin to consider once they’ve already become established in another career. The skills for entrepreneurship such as imagination, bravery and initiative, are not limited to people of any particular age, or indeed along any other demographic lines. Yes, entrepreneurship is certainly easier if you have a financial cushion to fall back on, or an established career to return to if it all goes horribly wrong. But as we’ll see in this article, there are entrepreneurs who don’t have any of this kind of support and who have succeeded to a remarkable extent all the same.
We’re taking a look at 14 entrepreneurs who got their start in business before they even reached the age of 20 – in some cases, before they even left school. Some have parents who helped them along, whether financially or with their own business skills, but others managed to strike out entirely on their own, despite their age, on the strength of a great idea. Here’s who they are, and how they did it.
1. Shubham Banerjee – Braigo Labs
Shubham Banerjee was 13 when he entered a Braille printer that he had designed using a Lego robotics kit into his school 7th grade science fair. Braille printers usually sell for over £1,500, but Banerjee’s design cost just £250 – a remarkable achievement. At the time he noted that “The challenges with assistive technologies currently available are either too expensive or difficult to obtain for normal people without government or non-profit sponsorships” and when his idea took off, he chose to give away the design and software for free.
Banerjee has since founded a company with the intent to manufacture Braigo v2.0, supported by investment from Intel. A brilliant idea earned him well-deserved attention and now he is using that success to drive his idea forwards.
2. Bella Tipping – Kidzcationz.com
Australian Bella Tipping was 12 when she came up with the idea for Kidzcationz – a TripAdvisor equivalent for children. She was annoyed after coming home from a family holiday that had been great for her parents but disappointing for her, feeling that more had been done to prioritise the happiness of the adults on the trip than the children. Kidzcationz came about as her way of ensuring that children’s opinions could also be heard.
Her parents were supportive, but cautiously so; they funded the site to the tune of nearly £50,000, but only after Tipping provided them with a full business plan and treated them as serious investors. One of the many ways Kidzcationz is carefully geared towards its target audience is that it uses avatars instead of real names and photos in order to protect its users.
3. Ollie Forsyth – Ollie’s shop
Ollie Forsyth’s school career didn’t promise success; he struggled with dyslexia, believed himself to be a failure, and was bullied. But his entrepreneurial spark was clear – at the age of 12, he sold friendship bracelets to his friends and their parents. When demand increased, he launched the online retailer Ollie’s Shop at the age of just 13. In the first few months he made £5,000, and the business has gone from strength to strength, with Forsyth getting up at 5am each day in order to have time to combine working on his business with the demands on school.
Not only that, but Forsyth has since launched The Budding Entrepreneur Club in order to support and network with other young entrepreneurs, stating that he wishes to “provide entrepreneurs of any field or background with a platform to establish new connections, and coincide with the next generation of leading entrepreneurs and their ideas.”
4. Noa Mintz – Nannies by Noa
Lots of young people earn a bit of extra cash through babysitting, but Noa Mintz took that a step further. She was unhappy with the babysitter that her parents employed, so her mother challenged her to find someone better. Not only did she succeed, she then started finding babysitters for other family members and friends, with some financial support from her parents. Eventually, she turned it into a business, Nannies by Noa, that now handles over 190 clients.
Only on entering high school did she decide to hand over control to a full-time CEO, as the 40 hours per week that she was putting into her business proved unsustainable – she describes herself as having struggled with school, and not an A+ student. All the same, her business skills are clear; many of her clients were completely unaware of her age.
5. Brian Wong – Kiip
Unlike some of the teenage entrepreneurs on this list, Brian Wong was a success at school. He graduated high school at the age of 14, and university at the age of 18. At university he launched his first company, which enabled users to find the best Twitter feeds to follow depending on their interests.
But his big success was Kiip, which allowed real-world rewards to be attached to success in mobile games – so for instance, a high score might unlock a discount code at someone’s favourite shop. Wong received venture capital funding to develop Kiip at the age of 19, and it’s now used by over 400 apps on 300 million devices.
6. Mark Bao – Threewords.me and many others
Mark Bao isn’t just known for one company – instead, he’s a serial developer of technology startups, including Debateware for debate teams, social media hit threewords.me, atomplan for small business management and Supportbreeze, a customer service platform – and all this before the age of 20. He’s also been able to put some of the profits from his success into philanthropic projects.
His advice for young entrepreneurs who want to achieve his success is simple: he says, “When you’re young, don’t fear failing. Whether you succeed or fail, the things you learn will be incredibly valuable for your future endeavors.”
7. Mihir Garimella – FlyBot
Another school student who’s using his instinct for entrepreneurship and his technological savvy for good is Mihir Garimella, who builds low-cost flying robots for search and rescue and emergency response; the idea being that a drone can be on the ground more quickly and in more dangerous conditions than a human, especially if it’s built cheaply enough to be disposable.
One such robot, FlyBot, had a design inspired by a fruit fly and won Garimella first prize in the 13-14 age category and the Google Computer Science Award at the Google Global Science Fair – suggesting that if you’re a budding entrepreneur, working hard for your school science fair can be a good place to start.
8. Mo Bridges – Mo’s Bows
Although a significant portion of young entrepreneurs found their start in computer science or technology, that’s not the only way of succeeding in business as a teenager. At the age of nine, Moziah Bridges was taught by his grandma how to make a bow tie – and he realised that for kids who liked dapper dress, like him, there wasn’t much available on the market.
His mother told him that he didn’t have to wait until he was older to establish his own business, so he created a page on Etsy and then established his own website selling his stylish creations. His grandmother’s influence is still visible in that much of the vintage fabric he uses comes from her own collection. And Bridges, too, uses his profits for good, having created his own scholarship fund to send children to summer camp.
9. Nick D’Aloisio – Summly
Nick D’Aloisio’s product Summly was sold to Yahoo in 2013 for $30 million, making him one of the world’s youngest self-made millionaires. The idea was simple: Summly is an algorithm than summarises news stories so that they can be read and digested more easily, especially in the limited space of a smartphone screen. The idea began as Trimit, which was featured on Apple on the App store, which then drew the attention of an investor who helped turn Trimit into Summly.
10. Juliette Brindak – Miss O and Friends
Just as Bella Tipping started Kidzcationz in order to have a review site targeted specifically at her age group, Juliette Brindak, at the age of 16, started a social networking site specifically for tween and teenage girls. The idea was that girls at that age need a space that is safe and just for them, and that’s what Brindak sought to provide, incorporating cartoon characters that she had drawn as a child.
As the website itself says, “we decided to create a website where girls could talk to other girls safely about issues that were happening to them and get some good advice. But also a place where they could have fun too!” With financial help from her family, she got the website off the ground and in 2012 it was recording 10 million monthly visits and was valued at around $15 million.
11. Sean Belnick – bizchair.com
Office chairs might not seem like a particularly glamorous business compared to the drones and apps that some of these teen entrepreneurs have developed, but it’s worked for Sean Belnick. He started at the age of 14 with just $500, selling chairs online on bizchair.com out of his bedroom – this was in 2001, when very few office furniture retailers were online-only. Three years later, the company moved into its own warehouse, and by 2008, sales had surpassed $40 million and had customers including Microsoft and Google. While many of the entrepreneurs on this list had thousands of pounds in investment and a really unique idea, Belnick’s story proves that business savvy at a good time can be all that’s required to succeed.
12. Rachel Zietz – Gladiator Lacrosse
Rachel Zietz’s parents are in business, so it made sense for her to sign up to a programme called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy aged 13. There, she was encouraged to think of a business model around a need in her own life, and as a keen lacrosse player, producing lacrosse equipment that was more hard-wearing than she could usually find was an obvious fit. Her parents helped her out with a loan and some warehouse space – and it turned out that the need for higher-quality, cheaper lacrosse equipment was shared by more people than just Zietz. Just two years on, her company is now worth more than $1 million.
14. Ben Pasternak – Flogg
Most of the teenagers on this list struggle to balance secondary school with the pressures of being an entrepreneur. Ben Pasternak went the whole way and dropped out of school in order to pursue his business interests, and at the age of 16, owns his own New York studio apartment (though he admits he has difficulties remembering to pay the bills). When bored in a science lesson, he designed the game Impossible Rush, which was downloaded more than 1.3 million times, though he sold the rights to it for just $200. He’s subsequently launched Flogg, an app that enables people to buy and sell unwanted items quickly within their own social networks.
14. Benjamin Stern – Nohbo
At the age of 14, Benjamin Stern watched a documentary that pointed out how much plastic goes unrecycled, especially things like shampoo bottles in bathrooms. It was this that sparked his brilliant idea: single-use shampoo pods, wrapped in biodegradable plant-based packaging. Stern got a job at 14 in order to raise money to fund the product, and by the age of 16, with help from his family, he had launched a company to produce it.
Nohbo shampoo balls are solid until mixed with water, so that they can’t leak in your bag or cause difficulties at airport security. Being eco-friendly is at the heart of the product – Stern notes that the balls are “all plant-based, animal and cruelty free, and paraben and sulfate free” – so the website also encourages donations to the US charity the Conservation Fund. Once again, a combination of inspiration, determination and the right support network has seen a teen entrepreneur achieve remarkable success.
Image credits: sneakers; shubham banerjee; family; friendship bracelets; baby; brian wong; drone; fabrics; young girls; lacrosse players; dog having a bath