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Building the DFW Teen Startup Community

The DFW Startup community has grown considerably since 2008 when there were only a handful of groups, organizations and office-sharing locations. Today, the area is buzzing with activity from Downtown Dallas to McKinney.

Just like their parents, children and teens are developing new product ideas and launching businesses. The Internet has broken down barriers of entry that once prevented most students from becoming business owners. Today, teens can obtain funding from Kickstarter, resell rack space, and use social media networks to promote their products.

Gone are the days of standing in 100 degree Texas heat pitching lemonade to neighbors and friends. Teens who do sell lemonade promote their location online and use Square for payments. Entrepreneurialism is quickly evolving, and many students are considering business ownership as a career option.

A 2013 Gallop poll surveyed fifth through 12th graders and 42% reported that they plan to invent something that will change the world. The survey also found that although many students are interested in launching a new business, there are few programs that provide adequate training and education.

Organizations and non-profit groups are offering entrepreneurship classes to children and teens to help close the gap and meet the growing demand. In April, Charles Wells highlighted the various organizations and classes that are being offered from New Jersey to San Antonio in his Wall Street Journal article, “Teaching Children How to Be Entrepreneurs.” The classes ranged from developing product prototypes to problem solving with Play-Doh.

Last year, I started looking for a group for my son Brandon, who is a young entrepreneur. He wanted a group similar to Meetup or Startup Weekend. We discussed the idea and in April, I launched Jr. Startup.

I’ve learned a lot from the Jr. Startup kids. About half of the families have a parent that has recently launched a tech startup. Several of the students have watched their parents launch products and are seeking to develop their own ideas. It is amazing to watch how quickly the kids learned from their peers and absorbed information.

Their concepts are more defined, and they can answer adult-level questions about their product’s target market, its ability to earn a profit and the amount funding needed to develop and launch the product. Skip Howard was a guest speaker earlier this year, and the students loved pitching their ideas and obtaining his feedback.

Concepts generated from Jr. Startup include a clothing app, an inflatable device that reduces the weight of their backpacks, a mini projector controlled by the sway of your hand, a pen that writes on molecules that can be used on a whiteboard, and developing lifetime tires for Tesla.

I believe entrepreneurship is a combination of inherited traits and an introduction to business ownership at an early age.

DFW is home to many teen businesses, and in April we met Swedish Sisters Bakery while working at the White Rock Market. I visited with the girls, Isabella, Julia and Ava. They launched the business using their grandmother’s recipe, who was born and raised in Sweden. The goal was to earn money for trips, summer camps and ballet lessons.

On the Saturday before Easter, they sold 90% of their inventory before noon!

We know it takes a village of organizations, groups and people to build a strong startup community. DFW is an excellent example of that kind of community — from Startup Happy Hour, to the Tech Wildcatters program, and the expanding Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

Jr. Startup is just one of several new groups for children and teen entrepreneurs. DFW Excellerator launched KidStarter, a cool new program designed to educate young kids and their parents about engineering and science.

In Frisco, there is a Young Entrepreneurship Academy chapter and in Dallas there is a Junior Achievement chapter that teaches entrepreneurship to young students. This summer, the University of Texas at Dallas offered coding classes and several private schools had startup and STEM summer camps.

Most children and teens from startup families learn about the business from their parents. Building a strong teen startup community is important; it helps the area develop a sustainable entrepreneurial base. Developing a variety programs from Meetup groups to summer classes will educate and encourage our bright and innovative students.

Entrepreneurship skills are invaluable at any age and are transferable. Students can learn how to succinctly communicate their ideas, solve problems by developing new products, and about the importance of perseverance.

Tiffany Sunday is a strategist, entrepreneur and creator of Jr. Startup. She is passionate about entrepreneurship, developing ideas into viable products and building a teen startup community in DFW. Tiffany has worked with a wide range of startups from e Commerce businesses to serving as Director of Marketing and Consumer Relations for an investor funded consumer products company. She is the author "You Posted What!? How to Help Your Teen Use Social Media to Gain an Advantage for College and Future Employment". The book offers guidance to parents; teens and educators on the growing digital divide and how teens and colleges students can use the Internet secure college placement and jumpstart their careers.