Digital Parenting | 09 Jun 2023

Meet the teen entrepreneurs using the internet to realise their dreams

On Happy Childhood Day, we ask young people who've started their own online businesses to share top tips and advice - their successes and failures - to help their peers just starting out.

Picture an entrepreneur, and you probably have in mind a Silicon Valley tech bro. Indeed, the average age of a start-up owner is 35. But there are plenty of younger people – plenty of kids still in school – who are also pursuing their business passions.

One 2020 study found that the number of teens running businesses had increased seven-fold over the previous decade. Relatively adept at harnessing digital tools for good, these children – with a supervisory helping hand from Mum, Dad, or an older sibling – are blazing new trails, and building enviable careers along the way.

Happy childhood day logo from NSPCC

Credits: NSPCC

Meet three UK child entrepreneurs.

Kirsten and Aiyven Mbawa, aged 15 and 14, from Northampton

Kirsten and Aiyven have always been voracious readers.

“Ever since we were little, our parents always read to us every night,” the sisters say. “Our dad was especially good at making up new stories, which helped a great deal with our imagination, coupled with our mum, who loves writing, too.”

Determined to share this passion with others, they started a YouTube channel, reviewing the children’s and young adults’ books that they read. Then, in 2019, they entered the BBC 500 Words writing competition before launching a Kickstarter campaign to get their stories published. It was successful, and the following year Kirsten’s book, Sagas of Anya, was published alongside Aiyven’s Land Of The Nurogons.

Don’t hold back or fear what others might think of you

“We were 12 and 11 when we published our debut novels during the pandemic,” the sisters explain. “In the marketing process, we contacted bookshops, online retail outlets and book subscription services.

“We soon realised that there was a gap in the market for a children’s book subscription box service, with diverse books to accommodate not just the avid reader but reluctant or struggling readers, too.”

So the sisters launched Happier Every Chapter, which they describe as a “book subscription service which includes diverse and inclusive books to ensure we didn’t just promote reading for pleasure, but diversity awareness, too.

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“This also gave us the opportunity to continue writing through our short stories which became very popular with our subscribers.”

The best part of their entrepreneurial experience?

“It has to be the impact that we have on people, especially our peers,” they say. “One can suffer imposter syndrome when you are behind it all.

“But hearing how much people enjoy receiving the inclusive books in the Happier Every Chapter boxes, how much they love reading our short stories, and the fact that this has got us giving talks to various schools to share our experiences, can be very fulfilling.”

Last year, their positive impact as role models was recognised by Disney, who featured the sisters in a new campaign, The Princess Pep Talk, aimed at boosting confidence in young girls.

“Don’t hold back or fear what others might think of you,” they say. “If you enjoy what you do enough to want to share with the world, go for it!

“Stay focused and committed to learning and becoming better each day. Do what makes you happy because at the end of the day, we live on a floating rock.”

Omari McQueen, 15, from London

Omari McQueen has always loved cooking.

“My passion was sparked at a young age when I would watch my parents in the kitchen,” he says. “It was further fuelled by my Jamaican heritage, which exposed me to a variety of flavours and spices that I incorporate into my dishes.”

When he was seven, his mother fell ill with hemiplegic migraines. Omari explains that he wanted to do something to contribute to the household, “so I asked my dad if he could teach me how to cook so I could help out.

“I quickly discovered I had a natural talent for cooking and developed a love for experimenting in the kitchen.”

The hardest thing about running a business is understanding that not every idea will be successful

His brother noticed his skills and started to film him, the fruits of which became a YouTube channel. A plant-based dips and snacks company – Dipalicious – followed. Next came CBBC television shows – What’s Cooking Omari? and Meet the McQueens – plus two books: Omari McQueen’s Best Bites and Vegan Family Cookbook. Omari even has his own pop-up restaurant in a converted bus and teaches other children how to cook.

Omari McQueen's Instagram page

Omari’s ethics prompted him to turn his passion into a business empire.

“I wanted to bring people together through food without hurting animals, while sharing the message of veganism,” he explains. “The hardest thing about running a business is understanding that not every idea will be successful,” he muses, adding: “Sometimes you have to fail to succeed.”

Omari has words of advice for young people with an entrepreneurial outlook.

“Do something you are passionate about and good at, research and plan what you want to do, and find an adult who is happy to support you,” he says.

“Don’t forget to never give up, even if the first attempt fails, and always remember your only competition is yourself. You are unique and stay humble no matter how far you get.”

Jenk Oz, 17, from London

It started with a simple ‘show and tell.’ Aged eight, Jenk decided to create a newsletter, sharing fun extracurricular activities and events with his peers. The idea went down well at his school assembly, so he started writing a regular email to his classmates.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know what the word entrepreneur meant, so I definitely didn’t start out saying I want to be one. You really begin by simply ideating. It’s just that: thoughts in your head,” he says.

Don’t fear failure, but be very terrified of regret

Soon, however, parents and peers were sharing the newsletter with a wider group. By 2017, then aged 11, Jenk had gathered enough encouragement to start iCoolKid Ltd, his own digital publishing company, which is aimed at others his age. His first employee was his guitar teacher.

“Soon young people started to reach out and share their real-life, personal situations with me,” he explains.

Within a couple of years, he was getting many messages a day.

“Each one that I read gave me a better and more realistic understanding of what other Gen Z-ers were going through from all four corners of the planet,” he says.

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This led to Jenk not only renaming the company Thred in 2019, but to also publishing more content about social change that would appeal to teens and young adults.

In 2022, he launched a consulting agency under the name Thred Media, sharing research and behavioural insights about Gen Z and social change with companies. His portfolio now spans consulting, publishing, media and production.

“I get asked a lot whether entrepreneurship is a mindset or skill set,” he says. “Loads of people think entrepreneurs are CEOs who run huge companies. Actually, they’re self-starters – ideas people – not fancy suits and big-glass-office people, and I would say it’s definitely a bit of both: probably 75% mindset, and 25% skill.”

Being in school full-time while running a business was hard: “time management techniques are essential to achieve goals and milestones, but I think it’s very doable, especially now.”

Jenk’s final words of advice: “Don’t fear failure, but be very terrified of regret.”

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