Small Businesswomen Make Big Leaps In Building Success

By Jonathan Winslow The Orange County Register

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A three-week entrepreneurship program for girls in Orange County culminated in a market day where 41 "small" business owners vied for the attention of investors. The girls weren't paid in cash for their offerings, but with "Mozzarella Chopsticks," the currency they created earlier in the program.

The Orange County Register

As investors moved from booth to booth, young businesswomen passed out samples, describing the benefits of their products and following up with handmade business cards.

The entrepreneurs, ages 8 to 11, made their pitches to real professionals visiting their City of Boom Chicken Soup, a mock society created as part of a crash course in leadership and entrepreneurship held for local elementary school students by Girls Inc. of Orange County.

Hosted at Chapman University's Launch Labs, the three-week entrepreneurship culminated in a market day where 41 girls vied for the attention of investors. The girls weren't paid in cash for their offerings, but with "Mozzarella Chopsticks," the currency they created earlier in the program. This wasn't simple play money -- it represented weeks of real effort by the girls, who used it to build up business accounts, purchase business licenses and pay rent.

The academy started with naming a society and choosing a currency, then swiftly moved into topics such as job applications, profit and loss, democracy and elections -- complete with campaigning and speeches. Girls Inc.

Elementary Program Coordinator Kelli McIntosh said the girls seized digested the sophisticated concepts with impressive speed.

"They latch on so fast," she said. "There are so many decisions that are theirs to make. They have -- in a non-chaotic way -- the power."

Far from being afraid of responsibility, McIntosh said girls of this age are hungry to see their creative ideas realized. When given a chance to have their ideas taken seriously, they can comprehend and organize very quickly -- leaving them with experience that will be a big confidence booster when they try it in the real world later on, McIntosh said.

"They can see themselves as entrepreneurs," McIntosh said. "I think that's amazing, that they leave feeling powerful and that they can do anything they want."

A lot of preparation had to be done before the girls could launch their own businesses, which last week included bakeries, beauty shops, a slime store and a raffle to Skype with YouTube celebrities. Before all of this could be done, the youngsters had to learn how to present a business proposal, apply for licenses, research their competition and buy inventory.

To assist, siëo, a company started by Chapman Launch Labs alumni, stepped in to guide the girls. A play on CEO, the siëo group prides itself on helping start-ups.

Austin Stofer, founder and CEO of siëo, said he was impressed with how well the girls kept up the project.

"I wasn't sure how quickly they were going to grasp this concept -- these girls are so sharp and moving so quickly," Stofer said.

He said the girls were particularly impressive when it came to problem solving and creative ideas. Raising his hands to show off his green-painted nails, done earlier that morning by one of the young entrepreneurs, he recalled the girls suggesting he have them painted the same green found in siëo's logo. Even more clever, he said they thought to charge for nail polish remover as the visiting adults returned to their own businesses.

After the success of last week's marketplace, Stofer said the plan is to invite Girls Inc. back to Chapman next year, to open the world of entrepreneurship to another batch of future leaders.

"One thing that's really interesting about entrepreneurship and building apps is that you just have to be exposed to it one time," Stofer said. "They'll never forget about this experience. The importance of getting to them at this age is you're exposing them to something they never thought they could do.

"Moving forward, we've opened up another door for them. It's attainable for them."

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