By Kate Santich Orlando Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This week a dozen middle- and high-school students, graduated from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy -- an intense, nine-month course taught through the Orlando Science Center. The Academy helps nurture future women in business like 13 yr old Camryn Brown who has already created an oil-infused "Shower Powder" -- that is selling in two boutiques!
Successful entrepreneurs will tell you inspiration can strike anywhere. For 13-year-old Camryn Brown of Orlando, it happened on her way home from the mall.
She had just spent $8 on a bath bomb -- a small, scented globe that dissolves in bath water. "I was, like, 'Wait, I don't even have time to use this,'" she says. "I wanted to come up with something I could use in a quick morning shower."
That led to the creation of "Shower Powder" -- and product testing, a business plan, web marketing and pitches to investors and retailers.
It may sound ambitious for an eighth grader, but Brown isn't unique. She and a dozen of her peers, all middle- and high-school students, graduated this week from the Young Entrepreneurs Academy -- an intense, nine-month course taught through the Orlando Science Center that helps nurture a generation of self-made business innovators.
Some of the kids already have business cards. They talk product lines and spin-offs. They set price points and launch dates and polish their elevator speeches -- the succinct pitch that lasts only as long as an elevator ride. And it's not pretend: Many leave as CEOs of their own legally registered company or social enterprise, ready for the real world.
"What these students are actually doing is amazing," says Nicole Rivera, a science center education specialist who leads the academy, which just finished its second year. "Starting a business is complicated, but these students have impressed every CEO they've encountered."
The academy, one of about 100 across the country, accepts students from age 11 to 18 who submit lengthy applications, school transcripts, letters of recommendations and an essay, followed by a personal interview. The course costs $995 ($795 for Orlando Science Center members), but scholarships are available based on need. The Orlando program, a partnership with Orlando, Inc. -- the local chamber of commerce -- is the first in the nation hosted by a science center.
The center's leaders say it's a natural fit since many emerging businesses require science and technology skills. Consider Ashley Chico, the 17-year-old CEO of CHICO HealthCare, a "medical tech systems and solutions company." Chico, a junior at Winter Park High School, is working to develop an app that will allow patients who are illiterate or don't speak English to fill out basic medical forms on their own by using a tablet with translation software.
"You can speak your answers, write them out or select them [from a menu] instead of waiting for a translator," she explains. "It saves time and frustration."
Chico hatched the idea after a summer working the front desk at her parents' podiatry office. When she pitched it to the academy's investor panel -- a group of local business executives who help sponsor the program -- she won $800 to use for start-up costs. She's still searching for a company to partner with for the actual development.
The experts recruited to mentor the students were impressed.
"That was one where we said, 'She definitely needs to move forward with this,'" said Anthony Vergopia, director of project management and business development at Riptide Software, based in Oviedo. "These kids amazed me. They live in this technology-driven world, and it has given them the opportunity to create things we never dreamed of."
Some kids come in with a business in mind. Others just know they want to start something.
C.J. Dutton, 16, was among the latter. A graduate of the 2015 academy, he ended up becoming a social entrepreneur -- launching a business to fund the assembly and distribution of care packages to the homeless.
"The packages have basic hygiene items: toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, hairbrush and washcloth -- and we add granola bars. We didn't want to focus on food because everyone gives out food," he says.
A home-schooled high school junior, Dutton pays for his good works through sales of handbags made from donated jeans and discount denim -- most of them sewn by his mom. Dutton handles the business end through internet sales on his "Not In America" Facebook and Etsy pages. He hasn't made any money, but he has distributed more than 250 care packages, which is his mission.
"I'm still in the process of figuring out what I want to do with my life," Dutton says. "I am only 16. But the program taught me a lot. I think it would be really cool to run my own business, doing something I love."
As for Camryn Brown, whether or not she hits it big with the essential-oil-infused Shower Powder -- already in two boutiques and soon available online at ShowerPowder.com -- she clearly has the makings of a mogul. At the Young Entrepreneurs trade show held at Fashion Square Mall this spring, she sold 20 packages, and she won $750 from the investors panel.
"From the time she was in preschool, she has come up with a series of businesses," says her mom, Suzanne Brown, a school teacher. "But on this one, she created her own website, she developed her own presentation, and over Christmas break she said she was working on her financials -- whatever that means. In fact, I tried to help her with production and she kicked me out. She told me, 'Mom, I already have a system.'"
To apply for the fall session, go to osc.org.