By Sandra Guy
Monday, October 16, 2006
Female teens are showing interest in starting their own businesses. Programs to help them are sprouting, with participants studying ways to turn shopping, fashion and teaching into income opportunities.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Katelyn Benhoff is a 17-year-old with a passion for shopping.
She is also an entrepreneur with a sense of the people who could use a shopping enthusiast like her: busy mothers, elderly people and people who simply do not have the time to run their errands.
"The only thing that came to my mind was shopping, so I kept thinking about how I could form that love into a money-making business," said Benhoff. "Then, personal shopping came to mind. Later that day, I turned that idea into running local errands."
Last July, Benhoff participated in the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network's Camp CEO, a business-training program for 19 high school students: 11 female, eight male.
During the program, she was required to submit a business plan so she heeded the advice to choose a business that involved something she enjoyed.
Benhoff had never heard of a similar business in Clinton County, Ill., which encompasses Breese, her hometown of 4,000 about 40 miles east of St. Louis. The business's uniqueness added credibility to her plan.
Negligible start-up costs--all she needed was gas in the tank of her car and time to run the errands--also helped. She decided to charge customers a flat hourly rate along with a certain amount per mile driven. Services include making bank deposits, picking up dry cleaning and grocery shopping.
Benhoff won first place in the personal business plan contest, as well as Camp CEO's "Spirit of Entrepreneurship" award.
Now, as soon as she finishes sending applications to colleges and entering scholarship contests, she plans to put her plan in motion and get the business started.
For the past 20 years, U.S. women have been starting their own businesses at twice the rate of all start-ups, according to U.S. Census data. The number of female-owned businesses--those in which women own 51 percent or more--grew 42 percent between 1997 and 2006, nearly double the 23 percent rate of growth of all businesses during that period, according to the Center for Women's Business Research, a Washington-based nonprofit research institute.
Now that trend in female entrepreneurship seems to be spreading to a younger age group.
More than 6 in 10 female teens who responded to an online survey earlier this year sponsored by Junior Achievement Worldwide--a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, Colo., that educates teens on economics and business--said they want to be self-employed at some point in their lives.
That is about the same as the 66 percent of female teens who said they'd like to start a business in 2005 and a significant jump from 56 percent in 2004. This year's poll, released in August, took place in January and February.
Nancy Moran, who started an outreach committee at the National Association of Women Business Owners in McLean, Va., to inform and inspire young women about entrepreneurship, is pleased to see more young women thinking like self-starters. "Too many young people, particularly young women, think they need to go into traditional 'female' jobs or go into the corporate world," she said.
The trend extends to young women from low-income households, some of whom receive entrepreneurial training and experience through nonprofit programs.
Girls Incorporated, for instance, is a New York-based nonprofit that serves female teens, 71 percent of whom are minorities from families who have incomes of less than $25,000 a year. It has affiliate chapters nationwide that pay a fee to the national organization in return for research, training and educational programs.
One affiliate in Sarasota County, Fla., that serves 300 girls and teens, ages 6 to 14, discovered runaway success in 2005 when a local consignment shop that was going out of business donated its clothes to the group.
Thirty Girls Inc. members sorted through the second-hand clothing, priced it and then created a "Funky Fashions" line that they advertised, presented in a special showing for select customers and then sold off in a rummage sale, bringing in $475.
"The girls were asking themselves: Did they like handling the advertising? Were they leaders? Were they running the accounting?" said Stephania Feltz, executive director of Girls Inc. of Sarasota County.
Girls Inc. also focuses on teaching participants to manage money.
So when Coach, the upscale handbag retailer in New York, donated money on top of the rummage sale income, participants wound up with a total of $2,500 in proceeds to manage.
Participants decided to give 25 percent of their take to a "Season of Sharing" program last year to help low-income families pay an electric bill or other emergency. The donation received a matching grant from the Selby Foundation in Sarasota, Fla.
Another 25 percent went to fund the young women's classrooms with items such as DVD players and instructional materials. Another 25 percent was shared with Girls Inc. participants who were not involved in the project.
Participants decided to spend the remaining 25 percent on themselves, for a celebratory field trip to Adventure Island.
Seventeen-year-old Kiara Harris got her entrepreneurial training at another program, Chicago's South Shore School of Entrepreneurship. A year ago, after completing the program, she started a tutoring business, Education to Success, to make extra money.
Harris, in her senior year in high school, now tutors three children ages 8 to 12 in reading, math, science and social studies four times a week.
She says she is fulfilling her dream of providing affordable tutoring in her neighborhood.
"In my neighborhood, there aren't that many tutors and most of the ones that are in business are too expensive for local families to afford," she said. Harris charges $45 a week for four hours of tutoring sessions.
Harris talks to parents about their children's tutoring needs and she creates her own tests to assess the children's abilities.
"I help them understand what they don't know and help them further understand what they do know," she said.
Harris said she found that her commitment to the education of her customers proved to be a competitive advantage over other tutoring services in her neighborhood. She credits her principal and teachers at school with encouraging her to live her dream.
"I hope to start providing computer software programs to supplement the children's textbooks when I earn the funds," she said.
Sandra Guy, a 23-year veteran journalist, is a business reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. She has covered business, politics, education, technology and peace issues, and served as a former president of the Chicago chapter of the Association for Women Journalists.
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