Last Saturday, the foyer of the Bay Centre buzzed as dozens of kids aged 12 to 17 flexed their entrepreneurial muscles at this year’s Kidovate. The youth entrepreneurship market, developed by professors at the Gustavson School of Business, was designed to give school-aged children the opportunity to test out their business acumen by preparing products and selling them to the public.
Seventy-two tables set up in the mall displayed a variety of items for sale from jewelry to magnets, plants to homemade candies. The event was deliberately scheduled for after Spring Break and many students used their time away from homework to develop their products.
At one booth, an eleven-year-old named Bella was selling all-natural and hypoallergenic beauty products.
“I wanted to try running a small business,” she said. After learning how to create the items during immersion week in school, she thought why not try it out at Kidovate. Her cocoa butter lip balms were half sold when we spoke and the African shea butter body scrubs were also doing well.
Twin brothers Charlie and Julian’s business began before Kidovate, at the start of the pandemic. In 2020, they taught themselves how to bake sourdough bread by watching a lot of videos and then selling the loaves at the end of their driveway.
For repeat customers, they send out emails letting them know when they are planning a baking day and asking for orders. Their Kidovate table was a popular one. They’d already sold out of scones and were running low on their whole wheat loaves.
“When people think about life skills, they don’t often think about business and economics but we all need to learn how to create value in some way,” says Kidovate Founder and Entrepreneurship Professor, Brock Smith. And it wasn’t just partnerships and product design that these students were demonstrating but marketing as well.
“How are you feline today?” a boy with glowing cat ears and a kitten-esque mask asked me as I walked by his booth. He launched into a series of feline puns as he attempted to sell me his “kitten-tested” and “cat-approved” toys. His name was Kyle and Kidovate happened to be the exact opportunity he’d been looking for.
“I told my parents I was really wanting to try entrepreneurship classes instead of band,” he said. Kidovate allowed him to test out his business skills and design his own cat toy wands with replaceable bobbles. The funny salesman act was his dad’s suggestion and added extra fun to the day. It also worked. I went home with catnip for my parent’s tabby.
To prepare the kids for their moment in the business spotlight, Smith and his team created a graphic novel that highlights the key steps to creating a business.
“It guides them through some of the key decisions that you would need to make a micro-business like this,” says Smith. “Starting with, are you gonna do this by yourself? Are you going to involve partners? In which case, how do you choose them?” They created entrepreneurial lesson plans that are tied to the BC curriculum.
Kidovate also promotes corporate social responsibility by encouraging students to donate some of their proceeds to charity. Julian, who was selling a selection of very professional looking candles, was donating some of his earnings to the Cobblestone Freeway Foundation to support Ukrainians. His business plans extend past Kidovate to local markets where his parents will sell lavender from their farm and he will sell his candles. One of his products was even scented with his family’s flowers.
“It’s nice seeing hard work pay off,” he said of the event. “I’ve already broken even.” He explained to me what he’d learned as far as pricing and whether he should sell individually or in discounted packages. There was an excitement and pride in his voice that went well beyond a math problem. I heard it in all the kids I talked to, you could tell they were invested in what they’d built.
Kidovate launched in 2019 but, due to COVID, had to wait until now to make its return. “We hope to be doing this annually,” says Smith. “It’s an opportunity to learn each year.”