Kids show off budding business skills with Children’s Business Fair

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published November 2, 2016

DETROIT — There is a strong push to promote small businesses in metro Detroit, and one group is trying to promote that idea early with the Children’s Business Fair, which took place Oct. 15 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.

This was the first time for the event, but the organizers are hoping to make it an annual occurrence. The Detroit event was organized by the Mackinac Center, which is a nonprofit organization that promotes education and public policy goals usually related to promoting free-market economics.

“The Children’s Business Fair is an opportunity to provide kids with a taste for entrepreneurship at a very young age,” said Geneva Ruppert, a communications associate with the Mackinac Center. “This event provides a safe space to sell to the community,”

The kids taking part had to be between the ages of 6 and 14. An adult — a parent, teacher or other mentor figure — had to fill out the the child’s application form, but otherwise, three- to four-person groups at the fair were run entirely by the kids with adults limited to advisory roles. The children opened their booths for business for three hours while the event judges determined which business was the most original, which had the best presentation and creativity, and which had the highest business potential.

Kahmora Kennedy, of Kahmora’s Empire, won for best presentation and creativity. Jadeb Rosas, Cyistian Henriquez, Alex Lowe and Emilio Hinojosa, of Jet Fast, won for most original. Alessandra Benegas, Ismael Alli and Yalitsa Serrato, of the Hydroflower Garden, won for most business potential.

The ultimate goal was improving the outlook of young students and encouraging them to take a stronger hand in their own futures.

“I hope they get a greater sense of self-worth, they know they have a bright future and anything is possible,” said Ruppert. “Many of the kids in other business fairs from other cities have gone on to do great things. Bee Sweet Lemonade, which started with one of these fairs, has become a successful business, and its owners are in high school. It was even featured on the ABC show ‘Shark Tank.’”

The judges included Margaret Trimer-Hartley, of Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan; Jim Walker, the vice president of advancement at the Mackinac Center; Howard Williams and Markuis Cartwright, the co-founders of Believe It Can Be, which funds urban gardening in Detroit; and Tracy Garley, the owner of Zarkpa’s Purses and Accessories in Detroit.

“I look for creativity and how open they are in their personality to see how far I think they can go with their projects,” said Garley. “We like telling kids they don’t have to go into a 9-to-5 job. They can do something they’re passionate about. You need to start with kids at a young age to get them involved in entrepreneurship. I would love to see similar programs in the area, especially among high school students.”

The students taking part in the business fair each presented their businesses and shared why they thought it would be something other people would be interested in.

The Hydroflower Garden, which makes hanging plant containers out of recycled materials, was created by 10-year-old Banegas, 11-year-old Alli and 11-year-old Serrato. They sold each planter for $7-$10.

“It’s an alternative to planting in the ground. It also has the potential to let people recycle the water so there’s less waste,” said Banegas. “People would be interested in this business because it is healthy and could cause people to start community gardens.”

Another business was the EKID Chocolate and Coffee Co. It was begun by Erike Espinoza, Kevin Martinez, Isasias Quezada and Dennis Martinez, all 10 years old. These students decided to sell imported chocolate.

“We sell three kinds of chocolate from Madagascar, Ecuador and Peru,” said Martinez. “We like selling better stuff people might not get very often. Hershey Bars are really only 10 percent chocolate and the ones we sell are about 70 percent. Plus, it’s starting to get cold out and we thought coffee and chocolate would be something people would want to buy.”

A number of the students who took part were members of the Leaders and Environmental Entrepreneurship Program at the Escuela Avancemos Academy in southwest Detroit. Morgan Lantz, a teacher and the leader of the LEE group, believes programs like this can have a profound effect on children. 

“I hope these kids take ownership of these projects,” said Lantz. “A lot of students don’t have a lot they can call their own, and this gives them that, as well as laying the groundwork for them starting a business or going to college when they’re older.”