Many area teenagers are starting their own businesses — from selling lip gloss and baked goods to lawn care — reflecting a national trend that has been fueled by lower capital requirements and social media.
Samaree Bulls, 14, sells lip gloss, keychains and jewelry through her business Maree’Ology. Bulls said she initially made lip gloss for herself, but after receiving compliments and interest in the gloss from her friends, she saw an opportunity to turn a hobby into her own business.
“I officially began in July but before then, (starting) in March, I began testing on myself,” Bulls said. “I did a lot of research and then I tested the different (ingredients) for myself to see how my skin would react to it.”
Bulls, who attends Athens High, said she makes her lip gloss with organic oils designed to protect and moisturize the skin, and offers lip gloss in more than 25 different scents, including cinnamon, coconut, peppermint and strawberry. Her lip gloss costs $3 for a small tube and $5 for a large tube.
“I’d like to expand nationwide and maybe even begin to sell it in stores,” Bulls said.
Lou Marino, an entrepreneurship and management professor at the University of Alabama, said entrepreneurship in teenagers has grown rapidly in the past 10 to 20 years.
“One of the primary drivers of that is that entry barriers are lower than they ever have been before, with access to technology and the ability for people to identify opportunities and leverage them without having to have a lot of capital,” Marino said.
Marino said teenagers can use social media and their knowledge of what’s trending in popular culture to their advantage to jump into the business world — an advantage that teenagers of past generations didn’t have.
“Social media becomes a relatively easy way to market your products and to identify trends and capitalize on them rapidly,” Marino said.
He said starting a business can serve as a powerful learning opportunity for teenagers, who can carry the skills they learned while running a photography company or babysitting business into their futures, whether they remain entrepreneurs or pursue a more traditional career path.
“Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you it’s not about how successful any one business is, it’s how good do you become at learning the lessons that each business venture you try has to teach you,” Marino said.
Marino said “it’s never been easier” for a young person to start their own business without having to invest a lot of money.
“The main thing to do is to try to identify a space where they have a unique knowledge or a unique passion, and they’re willing to put the work in and follow through to make it happen because they’re going to be discouraged, and the real trick is following through, and being able to experiment and make it happen,” Marino said.
The trend was on full display this month at “Tailgating with Teenpreneurs,” where teens were able to meet customers and sell products.
Kenya Congress hosted the event at her restaurant, Funnel Cake Queen, 1614 Beltline Road S.W. The teens, who attend high schools in Decatur and Athens, were able to set up booths for their businesses in the restaurant’s lobby and parking lot, and Congress provided business advice, logos and business cards for each business owner.
The event served as an opportunity for teenagers with businesses to network with the community, sell their products, book clients and learn about the basics of marketing and advertising. Congress said she also wanted to teach the teens that owning your own business is no easy task.
“I think it’s important (to support young entrepreneurs) because they need to know what they’re getting into. They need to understand the business side of it; it’s not just all glory and fame,” Congress said.
Congress said the teens set up their own booths and were tasked with promoting their businesses and advertising the event. Congress said “knowing how to promote yourself” is a key skill for young entrepreneurs starting a business for the first time.
Bulls said she made around 80 sales at the Tailgating with Teenpreneurs event and was able to pass out business cards, promote her products and meet new customers.
“(Tailgating with Teenpreneurs) went amazing," Bulls said. "I enjoyed the experience even though it was new. I was able to meet new people and bond with my customers. I also enjoyed supporting the other vendors, and I would definitely want to do it again."
Even though not all businesses succeed, Marino said society benefits from teenagers starting their own businesses.
“I really think youth entrepreneurship is so critical to the success of our country going forward, because whether they ever intend to start a business (as an adult) or not, the lessons they have and take into their corporate job and their business life are going to be invaluable learning experiences,” Marino said.
Finding a niche
Elijah Thrower, a sophomore at Austin High, said his lawn care company Thrower's Lawn Care began with a Facebook post and seeing which of his neighbors needed their grass cut.
“This past summer I turned 15 and was looking forward to being able to get a job so I can start saving money. School closed in March due to the pandemic, and everything was shut down. So my dad told me to talk around in our area to see if anyone needed their grass cut. I started doing that, and then my mom put a post on Facebook. It took off from there,” Thrower said.
Thrower said he had 12 customers, including four repeat customers, over the summer.
“Work was steady until about a few weeks ago when the weather started to get cool. I have even started doing inside work cleaning homes … for a neighbor once a month and trimming her hedges,” Thrower said. “The hardest part is getting customers.”
Thrower said he sets himself apart from professional lawn care services by offering lower prices and staying true to his business slogan, “Quality Service! Every time!”
He said working with Congress through the Tailgating with Teenpreneurs event helped him develop his business and find extra part-time work.
“Mrs. Kenya is an amazing business person who took time to talk to us, share her experiences, give us marketing tips … (and) business cards, help with a business name, logos, or anything else that we need free,” Thrower said. “Now I work part time for her at the Funnel Cake Queen and can continue learning from her about how to operate a business.”
Jariah Jones, 15, sells homemade desserts and baked goods through her business, Riah’s Unique Treats. She specializes in stuffed and chocolate-covered treats.
“I’ve been doing it a long time. (My aunt) does treats and I always grew up in the kitchen helping her, and she just got tired of taking orders. She didn’t really want to do it anymore, so she taught me,” Jones said.
Jones took her first order in February, and said she’s taken numerous orders since.
“My favorite part about running my own (business) is satisfying my customers and just having my own hustle,” Jones said. “I want to open several stores and I want to teach others to make (treats).”