Before Gabe Nagel started running his own business, he and his brother ran a lemonade stand.
“I didn’t actually make that much cash,” Nagel said. “We were squeezing the lemonade ourselves, which isn’t that profitable.”
His lemonade-stand days are not far behind him; today, at 13 years old, he says the experience was “the first thing” that led him to become an entrepreneur.
The Denver eighth-grader currently runs Gabe’s Bazaar, a business that sells two major products: massage candles that melt into lotion and Super Bars, which combine deodorant, sunscreen, moisturizer and bug repellant.
Primarily, he sells his products at pop-up marketplaces and retail locations. But for young entrepreneurs like Nagel, change could be on the horizon.
Sen. Angela Williams (D-33) plans to introduce 2019 legislation to allow minors to operate “occasional businesses” without a permit or license, she said.
The senator was inspired last May when police shut down a lemonade stand in her northeast Denver district because it did not have a temporary vending permit.
Denver’s city council has since passed a bill to waive license requirements for “children’s neighborhood beverage stands.”
“When I was a kid, lemonade stands were a simple thing,” said Councilman Paul Kashmann, who co-sponsored the bill with Councilman Chris Herndon. “You learned how to deal with people and serve the public while having a whole lot of fun.”
The local bill applies to stands that are run by a minor, sell beverages and operate 84 days or fewer per year. However, Williams hopes to expand the legalization to other products and services sold by minors.
She is meeting with different groups that support child entrepreneurs, such as Heinz, Country Time, and Lemonade Day, to discuss the legislation. She also met with Jennifer Knowles, the mother of the boys whose lemonade stand was shut down.
“It makes sense for us to encourage children, not discourage them, to be successful entrepreneurs,” Williams said. “The earlier we can expose them to that, the better it is for their futures.”
She has not yet determined a limit on the number of days the businesses will be allowed to operate. However, she expects it will be similar to the 84-day constraint in the city council bill.
Nagel believes such legislation would have made his process easier when he became an entrepreneur four years ago.
“I would probably be selling all over the place, whenever I had free time,” he said.
Even while neighborhood stands are prohibitted from selling anything but beverages, businesses like Nagel’s have a handful of sales opportunities. One is the YouthBiz Marketplace, an event at which young entrepreneurs can spend $25 to set up a booth and sell their products. Nagel plans to participate in the marketplace this December.
The event will take place Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 at two of the Young Americans centers, 3550 E. First Ave. and 401 S. Pierce St., respectively. Both locations are in Denver.
The Young Americans organization runs a certified bank for minors and a nonprofit financial center that offers many services to child entrepreneurs, including business classes and hands-on sales opportunities.
“We learned how to make a business plan and manage our money. The class gave us confidence,” said Frederick resident Claire Fisk, 17, who owns personalized jewelry business Wonderful Words with her 15-year-old sister Lauren.
“We saw other kids selling their products and thought it was cool,” Lauren said. “We started brainstorming business ideas after that.”
Richard Martinez, CEO of Young Americans, believes kids have historically been driven to be their own bosses. The same holds true today, when 55 percent of children in the fifth through eighth grades say they plan on starting a business, according to a Gallup poll.
“You go back to those simple lemonade stands and delivering newspapers,” Martinez said, “but I think the tech industry has really changed the entrance point for young people to start businesses.”
His goal is to help kids take advantage of these opportunities by fostering what he calls “extreme entrepreneurs” — kids who were born to start their own businesses.
Yaunie Williams, 11, who lives in Denver, was inspired to start skincare line Yaunie’s Scrub Sensation after discovering the YouthBiz Marketplace two years ago. After deciding to become an entrepreneur, she looked to her family for help.
“My mom and dad were my employees and investors,” she said. “My dad was my inspiration because he was also selling body scrubs, and other family members helped me with marketing.”
Likewise, Nagel’s parents help him with his finances. They have supported him since he told them he wanted to go into business, “but at the same, they were like `Oh, no, this is going to be a lot of work.’ ”
Meanwhile, Nagel and his fellow entrepreneurs have learned to juggle school, extracurricular activities and their businesses.
“It is extremely difficult to balance business with school,” Claire said. “It has gotten harder as we’ve gotten older because we are busy with other activities. But we still like having our business, because it gives us an opportunity to be creative.”
Branching out and talking to customers can also be a challenge, Yaunie said. For her, overcoming these challenges has been a rewarding part of the journey.
“I was very shy when I first started, and now my social skills have improved tremendously,” she said. “To all the young people: This will give you control of your future. You just have to believe in yourself.”
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