What I Learned Creating 400+ Teen Entrepreneurs During the Pandemic
And the permission you already had to be the change you want to see…
First of all, let me address the elephants in the room: there was (is) a pandemic, the U.S. presidential election happened, and masks became a political statement.
As a business owner whose company created over 400+ teen entrepreneurs during the pandemic, I believe I have a unique window into what enabled some to flourish during this difficult time, while others clocked out early.
2020 wasn’t what anybody really expected, for better or worse.
Fortune 500 companies signed multi-million dollar commercial leases; then work-from-home happened. Zoom was a useful tool for digital business owners like myself; then it became the hub for social-distanced gatherings. Teens got excited for prom, college visits, and upcoming summer plans; suddenly everything was canceled.
We all had plans for 2020, and come March, it seemed like normalcy and those plans were gone forever. However, I would be lying if I told you I thought sitting inside and “waiting it out” was being a hero. Sure, there were safety concerns. Yes, we needed to make some changes and adapt. But no, I can’t in good conscience say that you made the most of 2020 if you just got by…and here’s why:
During the pandemic alone, I witnessed hundreds of teenagers from all over the world bringing new products, inventions, and ideas to life. And they did so without excuses, working remotely, by their own time, will, and effort.
But that isn’t the lesson.
The most interesting, surprising thing I witnessed was the selflessness among these teen entrepreneurs.
When you talk to an adult business owner, one with a staff on payroll, a mortgage, and a family to support, the stakes to turn a profit are fairly high. Business owners can get so wrapped up in the stress, quotas, and financial requirements of the operation that they forget the core purpose of the company: to add value to the customers.
Imagine yourself as a teenager in 2020.
Your school has gone online. You can’t get together with friends. The only family outing or entertainment allowed is a brisk trip to a grocery store wearing a mask and gloves. It isn’t inconceivable that you might begin to feel sorry for yourself…
Here’s the major divide I noticed among the teen entrepreneurs we saw and the rest of the population: Our students took on this pandemic as a challenge, an opportunity, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get ahead. They also took it as a chance to give back.
Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking there’s nothing we could do with this downtime and that coming out with rock hard abs is the best use of our time at home. Personal growth, fitness, and self-care are all great, but what if we all allocated a small portion of our time to think of how we could help others?
Listen, I don’t run a non-profit and I’m not saying you need to quit your full-time job to volunteer at a food bank.
I come from a finance background, so I’m always going to look at the bottom line. However, seeing more than 400 student entrepreneurs build businesses to give back and help people, the environment, underprivileged groups, and the world at large was eye-opening. The level of optimism, altruism, and pure innocent passion these students had for their impact, rather than their potential income, was refreshing, to say the least.
So, what did I learn?
I can boil it down to a few key lessons from these impressive teens:
- Optimism isn’t so bad; in fact, it just might help you turn lemons into a lemon meringue pie stand that turns a hefty profit.
- Excuses will never excuse a lack of motivation. For those who were sick, caring for loved ones, or working round the clock to put bread on the table, perhaps you did all that you could. For those who decided that being a couch potato is the new definition of a hero, I’d challenge you to reconsider.
- Helping people and giving back in a meaningful, positive way will always be worth it. Sometimes it isn’t all about revenue or profit, but if you find a way to positively impact lives, those just may follow.
Since I’ve alluded to these students and their impact, let me give you a few examples of how students embraced selflessness to make an impact in 2020:
Raina Jain, a 17-year-old with a fascination for honeybees and their vital role in our ecosystem, environment, and economy, created a product called HiveGuard to prevent devastating mite infestations. Raina launched to over 4,300 pre-orders and is embarking on a test partnership with Whole Foods for a more consumer-friendly B2C (business-to-consumer) product to help spread awareness and fund honeybee-related product research.
Alana Weisberg, a Los Angeles high school sophomore who saw firsthand the socioeconomic divide in Southern California, created a philanthropic organization to promote literacy to students in poverty. In the latter half of 2020, Alana’s organization has donated over 24,000 books, has 240+ volunteers, and helps underprivileged youth in Northern and Southern California and Chicago.
Krish Chaudhary, a high school senior with a passion for computer science, channeled his software development expertise into a tech product for contact tracing and social distancing monitoring. Krish’s product enables businesses, schools, and hospitals to operate at a higher capacity, while closely monitoring and ensuring social distancing guidelines are being followed and any breaches result in the proper and timely contact tracing and notifications.
Raina, Alana, and Krish are impressive, but I don’t want to create the illusion that they are outliers or have some super genius gift that excuses their impact and success as an out-of-reach anomaly.
Raina is a bright girl, but she’s also spent the past 3+ years researching honeybees and mite infestations. Her patented HiveGuard invention was not born overnight, and neither was the research that led up to it.
Alana wanted to create a direct-to-consumer beauty-related business. Through planning that business, she discovered an even greater need and mobilized her friends, family, and network to set Bookworm Global in motion. It was through pure grit, relentless outreach and networking, and unending passion for her cause that she’s made the huge and palpable impact she has.
Krish is a brilliant computer science-focused student who has spent the majority of his teen years heads-down learning and practicing his coding. Krish’s artificial intelligence and facial recognition-powered social distancing software wasn’t created on a whim.
This product was a culmination of years of practice creating both artificial intelligence and facial recognition-powered products, and it’s still in the early stages. In fact, Krish would be the first to tell you he’s still in the learning phase when it comes to more advanced features like predictive analytics.
What’s the point?
Maybe you haven’t been researching honeybees or heads-down-coding for the past five years, but you have been doing something. Why not use that thing or the skills you’ve acquired doing it to help facilitate something new, positive, and impactful? Progress stops when we stay in our box.
If you decide you’re simply a square, you’ll always only be a square. What if you were still a blob, not yet formed into any particular shape, with the world at your feet and the opportunity to make whatever impact you choose?
The truth is, as hard as it is to be successful in business, a product or service that makes lives (or the world) better is the easiest sell. 2020 may be over, but you’ve still got decades of runway to make that impact, and there is no time like the present.
Like it or not, 2020 was the wake-up call to reassess your unique contribution to the world and those around you and come face-to-face with the reality of your impact (or lack thereof). Lucky for you, “opportunity” has no expiration date, and 2021 will happily receive your innovative impact as well.
Here’s to a sprinkle of optimism, facing our excuses, and deciding exactly what and how that impact will look for us in 2021
ex-Wall Street Banker turned Entrepreneur & Startup Consultant. CEO of Beta Bowl.