The 377 Center in Pontiac was abuzz with energy August 19, as at least 50 people crammed into the small space to attend a business fair featuring 14 local businesses. However, this wasn’t the typical business fair, as the entrepreneurs behind the booths were only between the ages of six and twelve.
Nonprofit Young Entrepreneurs Squad hosted the first annual Pontiac Children’s Business Fair, which showcased various businesses operated by children in the metro Detroit area.
Founded in 2016, the organization provides services such as coaching, mentoring, entrepreneurial training, and workforce development to children, parents, schools, and universities.
Founder Mary Evans drew inspiration for YES and ultimately the business fair from her grandson, Amari. When he was five years old, Amari began expressing an interest in having his own business. Evans didn’t think much about Amari becoming an entrepreneur until he set up a lemonade stand last year, making $120 in six hours. Now 7, Amari is the president of the for-profit division of YES where he sells T-shirts.
Evans found the 14 young entrepreneurs for the fair online, as applicants registered on the organization’s website. Social media also helped spread the word.
“Social media is awesome,” Evans says. “Our Facebook post was shared over 1,000 times through support from individuals in the community.”
Various types of businesses showcased their wares at the fair, including jewelry, hair accessories, beauty products, and desserts. One of the businesses selling sweets was Bella’s Organic Ice Cream, which is run by 12-year-old Isabella Henson, her 8-year-old brother, Miles, and their cousin Grace, 11. Grace said the three of them started their business six months ago after Isabella discovered she had an intolerance to cane sugar.
While the Hensons would not disclose any of the ingredients they use in their ice cream, maple syrup is one component, says Isabella. Bella's Organic Ice Cream comes in vanilla and chocolate, costing $2.50 each. The Pontiac Children’s Fair marks the first time the family members have sold their product.
“It’s fun, and we wanted to share with other people that ice cream doesn’t have to be bad for you,” says Grace.
At the table next to them was the business, 2 Chocolate Sisters and a Mister. Bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and bow ties in vibrant colors and prints lined the table. The owners of the jewelry and accessory company are siblings Sydnee, 11, Jeremiah, 9, and Danyelle McCray, 8. Their mother, Moneece Borders, remembers when Sydnee became interested having a business.
“She made me some earrings for my birthday, and she made them out of old jeans I had,” Borders says, smiling. “And she said we have a name for our business, and I’m like, ‘What business?’ Then she said, ‘Two Chocolate Sisters and a Mister,’ and I just fell out because it was so cute.”
The siblings began making crafts in 2015 and made their business official on Christmas Day of last year when Borders registered their name with Oakland County. The McCray siblings usually sell their items at school or at Border’s home daycare in Pontiac. The fair is the first event they have attended to sell their products.
Sydnee says she enjoys running a business with her brother and sister.
“It’s really fun, and if we’re ever bored, we can sit together, talk, and make jewelry.”
On the other side of the room, 8-year-old Christen Elliott was busy selling her line of lip balm. The Detroit entrepreneur is the owner of Polished Puckers by Devani, which has lip balm in a variety of flavors such as “Sizzlin’ Strawberry” and “Coolin’ Coconut.”
Elliot’s mother, LaToya Lathan, says they began the business last October to help children get rid of chapped lips, a problem her daughter once had.
“Christen suffered from chapped lips, especially during the winter, so we were spending money on a lot of lip balm that wasn’t working,” Lathan says. “So we started using stuff around the house, and it was working. But I knew I couldn’t send her to school with a jar of coconut oil or a tube of shea butter. So I presented to her, ‘Hey, how do you feel about starting a lip balm business and helping others that suffer from chapped lips?’ And from that day, she was excited. She got a journal, we sat down and came up with a name and started coming up with flavors.”
Since then, the mother and daughter have been busy promoting Polished Puckers. The first event Elliot showcased her products was at the Think Pink cheerleading competition at Cass Technical High School, which was then followed by a fashion show held by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation at Motor City Casino and Hotel. The Pontiac fair marks the tenth event Elliot has attended as a vendor.
In addition to events, Elliot and Lathan are active on social media, as they have Facebook and Instagram accounts for the business. Shoppers can make orders by email, with the item shipped to their house. Customers will soon be able to shop on the Polished Puckers website when it launches later this month, says Lathan.
In addition, the two have recently created a unisex lip balm line and label to broaden their audience, and Elliot is in the process of launching a surprise product for the company’s one year anniversary.
Elliott says she likes running her own business because helping others makes her “feel good.”
“The response we have been getting has been amazing,” says Lathan. “So far, we have been doing really well.”