Company Kids

At 41, John Herman has never had a boss — and likely never will.

As a 10-year-old, John used

his parents’ basement to sell pens, pencils and other stuff that sported company names and logos, leftover goods from his uncle Bob Herman’s promotional product business in Toledo. When a potential client asked if he could purchase 600 pens printed with his own logo, John hesitated. “I called my uncle, and he said, ‘John, that is the business that I am in!’ ” he recalls.

With the $500 commission check from his uncle, 15-year-old John founded the John Herman Co. Inc., a promotional products company.The next year, John was leasing office space in Beachwood and had five employees.

A big factor in John’s success was the adults in his life who gave their support. While most moms were driving their sons to parties and football games, Carolyn Herman was chauffeuring John on sales calls.

Even his high school headmaster, Rowland McKinley of University School, supported John’s efforts. “As long as I was a good student, McKinley let me come and go as I needed to,” John recalls. “We had a deal, and it worked, much to some teachers’ chagrin.”

John ran the business throughout high school and into his freshman year at Case Western Reserve University. When he transferred to the University of Miami in Florida, he sold the company to AdPro in Solon.

After graduating, he returned to Cleveland and has been acquiring and managing a variety of businesses ever since. His most recent venture, Watermark Media Group, is an Internet media, publishing and events business. It owns several Web sites, including and

His advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Go do it,” he encourages. “Not everything I’ve done is a winner. Entrepreneurs fail and they come back,” John says. “The key is to have more wins than losses. You’re not successful if you’re not making mistakes.”

Two recent studies suggest that more students would like to follow in John’s footsteps. A 2007 Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the Kauffman Foundation, an organization that promotes and supports entrepreneurship, revealed that 40 percent of young people would like to start their own businesses. And 27 percent of 8- to 21-year-olds would like to start a big company.

There’s a clear motive behind this trend toward young entrepreneurship. “In high school, students start to make career choices for the rest of their lives,” explains Jennifer Yuhas, vice president of operations for Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland. “I think that most young people are seeking personal independence ... free choice of place and time of working and better income.”

But it’s not all for fun and flexibility. “Most entrepreneurs are job creators and are a part of wealth creation,” she continues. “A lot of young people look to that as [a way] to benefit the greater good.”

Three important elements determine a young entrepreneur’s success, Yuhas advises. “These components help develop a student’s innovation and sense of initiative: a solid education, inspiring mentors and somebody somewhere who comes into their lives and says, ‘you can do this.’ ”

Still, theKauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996-2007 found that while the rate of entrepreneurship was up in the Midwest, Ohio ranked among the bottom five states in the U.S. in new business creation (190 startups per 100,000 adults each month). Leaders in entrepreneurship included Idaho, Arizona and the District of Columbia (which boasted 460 new businesses per 100,000 adults each month).

That statistic may be changing, though, as these Ohio students have already taken their first steps on the journey toward entrepreneurship.

Zachary Reizes
Age: 12
School: Sixth-grader at The Agnon School
Immediate plan: To get a lot better in math, to win his second school science fair
Long-term plan: Combine a career as an ecological scientist with owning a small jewelry store
Wow moment: Getting a $700 order for seven bracelets

While visiting his grandparent’s house in Maryland three years ago, Zachary watched his grandfather make silver bracelets out of small silver loops called jumprings.

“I got really interested, and I asked my papa to show me how he did it,” he says.

“Since my hands were small, I was actually really good,” he says. Zachary opens the small silver rings with pliers and weaves in a second ring, then another to create his pieces. “I made my first bracelet with very few mistakes.”

The intricate detail means Zachary works in small increments, taking several days to complete a bracelet.

His mom, Joelle, proudly wears Zachary’s first creation. When one of Joelle’s colleagues at Life Line Screening saw it, she asked Zachary for seven bracelets —a $700 order — to give as gifts.

While jewelry will take a backseat to the demands of sixth grade for this A-student, he thinks about growing his business. “I made a couple fake business cards with the name Jumpring Jewelers on the computer and put clear tape over them,” he says.

He’s even added beaded jewelry to his product line, but that’s created a new dilemma: “I haven’t really come up with a new name,” he says.

Natasha Toth
Age: 19
School: 2008 Laurel School graduate
Immediate plan: Major in fashion design at Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.
Long-term plan: Work as a designer for J. Crew, BCBG or a similar clothing manufacturer
Wow moment: Seeing a young woman in the mall carrying a Tasha’s Tote. “That was a thrill!”
Favorite purchase with the money: Laptop computer

Natasha (Tasha) Toth of Shaker Heights learned to sew by making Halloween costumes with her mother, Barbara. “I just love making things,” she says. “I really like art, painting, drawing.”

But a fabric purchase on a family vacation to New Mexico in 2005 led her to the tote bag design business. “I found this really cool oil cloth,” she says. “I wanted to do something fun with it.”

She created a number of shoulder bags in brightly colored prints and patterns ranging from chic to whimsical — and all definitely fun. “I just gave them away for birthday presents and stuff like that,” she says.

When other people wanted them, Tasha began taking orders and created enough tote bags to set up a booth at her school’s holiday craft fair. “I sold 25 and got something like 30 orders,” she recalls. “I realized I could sell these at other places.”

Soon she was supplying local boutiques and trying to balance running a tote bag business with schoolwork and varsity sports. (She was captain of the Laurel lacrosse team and played on the tennis team.)

Her biggest challenge? “Finding time and staying motivated. I’ve sold over 600, and that’s a lot of sewing.” For now, the Laurel School grad has hung up her tote bags to focus on her freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga. “I don’t think I have enough space at school to make them or time with school and other stuff,” she says. “But it’s always something I can come back to.”

Taylor Burton
Age: 21
School: Senior at John Carroll University
Immediate plan: Balance senior year as a management major in entrepreneurial studies with handling sales and marketing for a startup company
Long-term plan: Work to build his startup into a thriving business
Wow moment: Receiving a $4,000 payment in his painting business
Favorite purchase with the money: $2,000 in Saks Fifth Avenue stocks and a 1990 Jeep Woody

Like many teens, Taylor Burton’s first job was working as a lifeguard. But during those hours in the sun, he was formulating plans to own his own business. “I would go through the life cycle of a business, and I would go through what I thought was the most feasible for me to get into at that age,” he says.

After spending one summer working for Student Painters, Taylor found a partner and started Excel Painting in his hometown of Traverse City, Mich. Although his goal wasn’t totally financial, the company averaged 15 to 20 jobs each summer and earned approximately $20,000 in net profit every summer from 2004 to 2008.

“We weren’t in this to make a lot of money; we were in this to support ourselves and gain the knowledge of starting a business,” he says. Still, it allowed him to pay for all his living expenses at college and for the expenses of his friends who worked with him.

Now Taylor is working on strategic planning, fundraising and marketing for a new venture, Hanna Automotives Group, a company that converts car engines from gas to propane. “We are in the process of filing our papers. This is a baby right now. We’re at the [venture capital] stage. We’re looking to raise around $10 million, but we only need $3 million to actually go live with production,” Taylor says.

Jumping from a small painting business to a potentially huge automotive conversion business doesn’t intimidate Taylor. “The industry doesn’t matter. It’s the planning, process and preparation that’s gonna decide whether you’re a success or a failure,” he says. Oh, and also: “You have to love it or you won’t do the extra little things that you have to do to make it happen.”

Michael DeFelice
Age: 18
School: 2008 Medina High School graduate
Immediate plan: Balance freshman year at Ohio State University, majoring in engineering and/ or business, with managing his lawn-care business
Long-term plan: To own his own business
Favorite purchase with the money: A Burton snowboard that he uses on the slopes at Brandywine and Boston Mills

Cutting the grass is a dreaded chore for many 13-year-old boys. But five years ago, Michael DeFelice saw his lawnmower as an opportunity.

“I was too young to get a job working for a fast food restaurant, so I started mowing my yard at my house,” he says. “I figured that would be a good way to start making money — by mowing around the neighborhood.”

Armed with flyers, he canvassed the neighborhood and was happy when one customer responded. A few more trickled in over the course of the summer and Mike’s Mower, a one-man operation, allowed the 13-year-old to end the summer with $400 in his pocket.

Each summer he added a few more customers, and the business grew to include full-service yard care. The newly named M-Town Mower and Maintenance employed five of Michael’s friends, and the company’s income topped $5,000 this past year. His biggest challenge has been “managing all the other aspects of my life: school, family, church, sports.” (He was captain of his school’s cross-country team.)

“When you have a business, you have to make sacrifices,” Michael says. “Once or twice I signed out of school early so I could catch up on my lawn mowing. My parents were OK with it because when it rains a lot I can’t mow and a bunch of work piles up.”

Michael is undecided if he’ll continue his lawn care business on summer breaks from college. He has ventured into a new business, SyteRight, which designs and maintains Web sites. SyteRight started when Michael created and managed Web sites for Medina High School’s track and cross-country teams. He recently created the site for the Medina Senior Service Network and plans to maintain it while looking for other organizations needing an Internet presence.

“Organization is one of the biggest things,” Michael says. “And having other people behind you and being able to bounce ideas off them.”
Brittany Akins
Age: 18
School: Senior at East Tech High School, head of marketing for 2007 Junior Achievement Team
Immediate plan: Graduate from East Tech in June 2009, begin training at Inner State Beauty School
Long-term plan: Own a hair salon
Wow moment: Presenting a portion of her team’s profits to the Rainey Institute

Letitia Davis
Age: 17
School: Senior at East Tech High School, head of finance for 2007 Junior Achievement Team
Immediate plan: Graduate from East Tech, attend culinary school
Long-term plan: Own a day care center
Wow moment: Attending a luncheon at Graf-Tech International Holdings Inc., East Tech’s JA partner company.
Anthony Simeone, a former 11th grade government teacher at East Tech High School who now teaches at the Ginn Academy, likes to expose his students to as many academic challenges as possible.

So when Junior Achievement approached him about participating in a business-building program, he jumped at the chance. Simeone had a good class with great kids in it.

Brittany Akins and Letitia Davis were two of those kids. Both had taken business courses and were excited to be a part of the 17-person team that would research, develop, market and ultimately sell a product. “I was skeptical because I didn’t think we could pull it off,” Letitia explains.

With such a large group, it was difficult to agree on which ideas to execute. Would it be T-shirts, hats,flip-flops? “We had our disagreements,” she says.

They finally decided on SCARABANDS, a rubber bracelet stamped with the name of the school’s mascot, the Scarab. The team, working with volunteers from GrafTech International Holdings Inc., set multiple goals to support the school’s athletic programs (the team donated $450 to East Tech’s athletic department) and improve the school’s image. The team sold more than 600 bracelets in the lunchroom, homerooms, after school and to the surrounding community. From the principal and staff to parents and alumni, everyone was wearing them.

“Scarabands could be seen as a fashion accessory for the entire population at East Tech,” Simeone says. At $3 for two Scarabands, wearing the bracelets became a symbol throughout the school.

The most fulfilling goal, according to both Brittany and Letitia, was the opportunity to donate a portion of the $878 in revenue to the Rainey Institute, a local organization that gives young, inner-city Clevelanders a chance to study performing and visual arts. “It was wonderful to give the check to the Rainey Institute,” Brittany says. “One of the kids who helped out [with the JA team] went to Rainey Institute, so it was like full-circle.”
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