Entrepreneurial Spirit Sparks Teens' Success In Business

Highly motivated high schoolers have created their own companies, from catering to computer sales

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FOR 17-year-old Carrick Sears, it takes a lot of work to make a good tomato. Plus good soil, manure, a computer, and two part-time employees.

''I made a profit of $3,000 last year,'' he says of his business, Carrick's Garden Shoppe in Montague, Calif. On his one acre he grows tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, squash, and watermelon. Some 170 families have come to count on the produce that comes from Carrick's bountiful acre.

Carrick is one of 10 teenagers from around the country chosen to participate in a contest for young entrepreneurs sponsored by Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. The university offers degrees in business, hotel management, entrepreneurship, and culinary arts.

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The contestants are go-getters who began their own businesses during their high school years, ranging from catering to computer sales.

The drive to succeed

Hard-working, focused, and motivated, these teens' free-enterprise experiences are giving them a unique preparation for college.

''When I go to college now,'' says Carrick, with an eye on being a stockbroker, ''I'll know better what works and what doesn't.''

''The talent here is truly amazing,'' says Mark Hayward of the Small Business Administration, and one of seven judges in the contest. ''And behind each one of these success stories,'' he says, ''is often a mother or father who encourages their child to succeed.''

In Pasco, Wash., 17-year-old Miguel Miranda's nickname is ''Shack.'' At 14, he started ''Sno-Shack,'' a summer snow-cone business featuring the Mercedes-Benz of the snow-cone world, shaved ice. ''We offer 100 flavors,'' says Miguel, who also works part-time as a bank teller in an intern program. He is a finalist in a statewide teen business competition.

Miguel's business sense was triggered in grade school when he sold Boy Scout candy bars to his classmates. ''One day,'' he says, ''I said to myself, 'I can sell my own candy bars.' '' He made $200, until the school principal ended the enterprise because candy wrappers were all over the school.

Later he worked in a produce market, and with his savings and some help from his parents, he bought the snow-cone business for $2,000. ''I had to talk the manager of a farmers' market into letting me sell snow cones out in front,'' he says.

Last year snow cones provided him with $6,000 in profits. He bought a truck. ''I work more than eight hours a day,'' he says of the time spent selling snow cones at 15 to 20 summer events and at his permanent location at the farmers'market. His mother works with him on busy days.

''I'm working for myself, which is what I want,'' he says. ''I get to meet all kinds of people, and I've learned how to talk to adults and explain myself.''

For contestant Dena Pedynowski of Succasunna, N.J., birds are ''the ultimate freedom.'' She began her business, ''Pedynowski Aviaries,'' when she was 14, with encouragement from her father. Now she rents space for an aviary she designed. She breeds from a stock of 150 birds, sells bird cages, bird feed, and travels in a brightly painted trailer to bird shows around the country.

Last year sales hit $48,000 from some 40 accounts. ''I'm projecting sales of $100,000 this year,'' she says, although she doesn't pay herself a salary.

During one of her 20 minute sessions with the judges, Dena was asked about the financial details of her business. ''After I offered a catalog, sales skyrocketed,'' she tells Mr. Hayward, who notes that her business has yet to make a profit. ''Inventory purchased just before the end of the year is the reason,'' she says.

Dena says she ''entered this contest because I'm interested in competitive honors,'' although she already has a full scholarship to Drew University in Madison, N.J. My goal is to retire as a multimillionaire.''

The 10 contestants received an all-expense paid weekend at Johnson & Wales University, a four-year university founded in 1914 with a current enrollment of about 6,000.

First prize in the contest is a $20,000, four-year scholarship to Johnson & Wales. Second and third prizes are lesser scholarships. Last year's winner, Chad Oberson, now attending the university, started a landscaping business in Concord, Ohio.

''I've got a crew of two that takes care of about 70 homes and 11 commercial companies,'' he says. His father helps keep an eye on the business while Chad is at college.

Dancing toward the prize

This year's winner, Aislinn Smith of Hyde Park, N.Y., started a dance school in a church basement two years ago. Teaching seven days a week, she and a partner are now earning $1,500 a month. Their students range from preschoolers to teenagers. ''Aislinn had a very good business plan and explained it well,'' says Hayward.

''I learned to love working with kids,'' Aislinn says, ''but I like the business aspect even more and want to pursue a business degree in college.'' She says she will attend Johnson & Wales.

For Julie Collins, it was love of cooking that led her into the kitchen of her family home in Belle Fourche, S.D. ''I loved to prepare meals for my family,'' she says. Now, three years later, as owner of Julie's Catering, she has catered dinners for groups as large as 400.

''I rent a building to do the cooking,'' she says, ''and hire high school kids to do the serving. I do all the cooking myself.''

In the coming months she will serve about 1,000 dinners, charging at least $6 a plate. She designed her own business cards and caters dinners about six times a month, even while holding a part-time job as a dietary aide at a hospital.

Other contestants include:

*Wyatt Jacobs from Bozeman, Mont., who started a computer sales, repair, and consulting service. His biggest sale last year was 26 computers to the local high school. In the last six months his business netted more than $7,500.

*Chris Minchillo of Vallejo, Calif., who started doing magic tricks at age 9 and today is ''Minchillo the Magnificent.'' He earns up to $1,000 per performance. ''I bought my first major illusion when I was 13 for around $10,000,'' he says. ''Now I create my illusions and save money.''

He's worked on cruise ships, at amusement parks, and at the Oakland Coliseum, all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average. ''I'm very ambitious,'' he says. He saves his money, hoping to go to the University of Miami.

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