By Eric Banford
Weeks of work by around 50 area youth will culminate with Ithaca’s first Youth Entrepreneurship Market to sell the products and services designed by students in grades 4-12.
The market will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 20, in Press Bay Alley, located at 118 W. Green St. in Ithaca. The market is part of a program developed by a group of local entrepreneurs, in partnership with New Roots Charter School.
The program has allowed its participants to attend basic entrepreneurship workshops led by local business owners and coaches, including the founders of Emmy’s Organics, Lively Run Goat Dairy and Firelight Camps. Students received an introduction to the basics of creating a business plan, managing finances, pricing and buying supplies, and ultimately marketing their product or service at the market. The opportunity has been funded by a grant awarded by the Community Foundation’s Lane Family Fund, which helped participants buy materials for their business.
Inspiration for YEM came about when co-organizer Michael Mazza was approached by his daughters to help with a lemonade stand they started in their driveway.
“They were out there all day long raising money for the SPCA and for themselves,” he said. “They’re at that age where they’re realizing that having some money would be helpful.
“They had about $20, which in their world was a huge win,” Mazza added, “and when I came home from work, they said, ‘Dad, can you help us find another place where we can take this stand?’”
Thinking it wouldn’t be to hard to help, he started asking organizers of various events around town if the girls could set up their lemonade stand. Everywhere they turned the answer was no.
“It was permitting issues, exclusive vendor issues, it just wasn’t OK to have a youth business at an event,” said Mazza. “In that process I’m seeing how these girls are thinking like business people, and I wondered how many other kids there were like that in this community.
“I asked the girls what they thought about having a festival for kid businesses,” he added, “and from that epiphany we just followed it all of the way through.”
Mazza contacted fellow local entrepreneur Ethan Ash, who suggested adding an educational component to lead up to the market. They put out the word to the community for volunteers to mentor the kids, and they connected with New Roots Charter School to pull the educational training and market details together.
“School doesn’t really teach kids what it means to have a business,” said Mazza. “We thought that as a supplement to what kids are learning, this would be an opportunity for them to learn what means to have a business.
“They’re so creative at that age, this gives them the opportunity to take that creativity and do something with it,” he added. “And they learn about managing money, budgeting, overall planning and (have to) project manage.”
When Ash returned to Ithaca, he was disappointed to find a lack of support for entrepreneurs, but is encouraged by how much that has changed.
“Today, there are multiple co-working spaces, and an amazing resource in REV: Ithaca Startup Works,” he said. “These are sources of opportunity for young professionals, but my hope with YEM, is to reach kids at an early age, expose them to these resources and mentors in the community, and to introduce them to like-minded peers.”
Mazza’s daughter Isabella, who’s a 6th grader at Dewitt Middle School, formed a team with her friends Samara Clare, Rosie Blas and Barbara Viteri, and together they went through the training.
“We’re going to be selling slime at the market, and also these glass candies,” said Isabella. “We saw the glass candies on Pinterest, and for the past year we’ve all been really into slime, so we wanted to make that to sell.”
“The workshops really helped us put it together so it wasn’t just us kids having an idea, they helped us with papers and having us write everything down,” shared Rosie.
“I learned that you need to go through a whole process to get your inventory, and you have to think about other people’s choices,” added Barbara.
And Samara learned that, “you have to find out what age group you are selling to, and what their personality is.”
There will be more than 30 youth businesses at the May 20th market, whose products will include slime (of course), candy, cookies, blended drinks, drone photography, vintage clothing, doll clothing, T-shirts and more. One participant will be promoting his production company that produces plays, movies, books and records. And another will be promoting his YouTube channel that features health information.
“We really have a whole gamut of businesses,” Mazza said. “I think it will be cool to see the creativity that the kids have.”
Ash is hopeful that this year’s YEM is just the beginning.
“If we can foster kids ideas, and give them a platform to actually sell to the community, the returns in terms of confidence and education will be huge,” he said. “And who knows, some of these kids may start the next Emmy’s Organics, Ithaca Bakery, Purity or other local success story.”