By Sharon Lee Tegler The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 5 years ago, Erica Szymanski founded "Erica Morgan Designs" and began producing magnets, decals and stickers through a manufacturer. Now 18, she has created her first book, "A Shark's Tooth Fairy Tale," which will be distributed by her publisher as well as a spin-off company she recently launched to market it through www.EricaMorganBooks.com.
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Poised and polished, but bubbling with energy, 2019 Severna Park High graduate Erica Szymanski revealed that her taste for "entrepreneurship" goes back to her childhood when, instead of selling lemonade, she collected shark's teeth on the beach and sold them to tourists.
Five years ago, she started her first company.
While a high school freshman, Szymanski began taking classes at Anne Arundel Community College earning 18 credits for courses in accounting, marketing and promotion. She received her AACC Entrepreneur Certificate in 2018. This fall, she'll enter the University of Virginia majoring in business or economics.
"My high school and AACC courses exposed me to various sectors of the business world," she said. "At UVA, I'll hone in on those I'm most passionate about."
Szymanski's earliest entrepreneurial impulse led her down an unexpected path.
"I was in elementary school during summer at the shore when I first spotted those sharks' teeth by the water's edge," she said.
"I wondered, 'What if there was a shark's tooth fairy? She'd be quite busy.' Then and there, I was inspired to write a book about it."
A youngster, the budding author had no way to publish it. However, she revived the idea during her senior year of high school... with help from the community college.
"The same year I began taking classes, I participated in AACC's Diamond Challenge High School Business Pitch Competition," Szymanski said. "I placed first and won a Radcliffe Scholarship which paid for all my classes there."
She simultaneously participated in the community college's Hatchery -- a creative incubator for students to develop their ideas and projects.
The Hatchery provides 'maker space' resources like computer stations and printers, button-makers, and 3-D printers and holds networking events and competitions. It also serves as a professional space where students can feel comfortable inviting potential clients to pitch ideas.
Encouraged by mentor and FantaSEA Aquariums owner Dalton Leonard, Szymanski entered and won a second AACC pitch competition obtaining seed funds to pursue her children's book. She created a storyboard, painted watercolor illustrations and hired a professional illustrator to create sharper digital images. She found a publisher -- Mascot Books -- through a friend's family.
About to be released, "A Shark's Tooth Fairy Tale," with illustrations by Chiara Civati, will be distributed by the publisher. Additionally, Szymanski's created a spin-off company to market it through the website www.EricaMorganBooks.com now under development.
AACC Instructional Specialist Stephen Barry, who worked with Szymanski in the Entrepreneurs Program, said he admires her creativity, ambition, persistence and compassion.
"She's a person who has taken advantage of every opportunity we offer -- our scholarship. mentoring, and networking programs -- to expand upon her ideas and grow them and be successful as a student and entrepreneur," he said.
Assistant Professor Stephanie L. Goldenberg, Interim Chair of the Entrepreneurial Studies Institute that oversees AACC competitions, said it's been fun observing Szymanski and discovering she's not averse to taking risks to promote a good idea.
"For the pitch competition promoting her children's book, she showed up wearing a shark costume. It was super cute, very tasteful and very brave. She was confident enough with her presentation to pull it off very well," Goldenberg said.
The blossoming business owner's early entry into the design and retail sales field followed a similar pathway.
"Spending summers at Bethany Beach, I'd noticed lots of car decals and magnets in the bright, pastel color palette I love," Szymanski said. "I designed a magnet of my own, placed one on my mother's car, and sold the rest to Bethany Beach boutiques.
My business grew from there. In 2015, I founded Erica Morgan Designs and began producing magnets, decals and stickers through a manufacturer."
In addition to selling her products online through www.EricaMorganDesigns.com, the 18-year-old has established a network of 30 retailers through six states that carry them. Locally, they're sold at Whimsicality in Cape St. Claire and Lilac Bijoux and HERE., a pop-up shop in Annapolis.
Side Street Framers in Severna Park also carries her products. Owner, Dawn Wilson, said the Park Plaza shop began carrying the teen's jewelry and other items when she was 13.
Szymanski's eventual goal is for her magnet business to grow into a textile business, enabling her to design and market products like pillows, drapes and comforters while simultaneously using the company to promote charitable initiatives.
She's currently using her magnets and decals to raise money for worthy causes. Erica Morgan Designs hosted a fundraiser following the Ellicott City floods to support rebuilding the town. Her company's most recent and ongoing Annapolis Strong campaign (through Lilac Bijoux) has raised $2,000 for the Capital Gazette Families Fund.
Looking ahead, she's eager to study accounting and finance at University of Virginia "to fully understand the numbers behind her business."
Calm, cool and confident, Szymanski is already a great role model for "young professionals" who could profit from her advice to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.