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Raise a Mini-Mogul

How to nurture kid entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs start young. At 12, Tony Hsieh sold customized photo buttons by mail. He went on to found an advertising network and sell it to Microsoft. Now he’s CEO of the billion-dollar shoe retailer Zappos.com. Jenny Craig (yes, she’s real!) got her start at 7, catching hard-shell crabs and selling them for a penny apiece. In 2006 she sold her weight loss empire to Nestle for $600 million.

Meet a Jr. Entrepreneur
If Max Levin turns out to be a Warren Buffett–
like financial guru, remember you met him here first. Bit by the stock-picking bug at the age of 11, when his late grandfather showed him how to play the market, the 16-year-old junior at Eastern
Regional High School in Voorhees, NJ has made a name for himself in Wall Street circles.

As a freshman, he launched StockPick101.com to teach his peers how to trade stocks. Soon after, Max was discovered by Mad Money host Jim Cramer, who dubbed this future hedge fund manager the “Stock Pick Whiz Kid” and invited him to pen a
finance column for TheStreet.com. Recently, Max founded The Financial Literacy Foundation in order to travel to local middle and high schools to speak on his favorite topic: “Kids think they have bigger and better subjects to conquer,” Max says. “But everyone needs financial literacy.”

If you are lucky enough to parent a budding business tycoon, get ready for adventure. Given a little space and encouragement kids can amaze with their ingenuity and drive. Here are key traits of highly entrepreneurial kids and ways for parents to nurture their natural instincts.

Jr. entrepreneurs are imaginative.

Entrepreneurs are an imaginative bunch, so all those picture books and craft projects might pay off someday. Encourage children to think creatively about things outside of story time and the art room. Play games, break routines and discuss everything. Don’t worry when your child challenges the status quo; big thinkers always do. And lay off the overscheduling. Sports, music lessons and play dates are great, but young entrepreneurs need time to wonder and mental space to plan those big ideas.

Mini-moguls negotiate smoothly.

Most kids naturally learn to negotiate everything from bedtimes to allowances. Budding entrepreneurs are especially skillful at reading the signs. Puppy-dog eyes to get cookies from Dad? Sparkling manners for a ride from Mom? Mini-moguls find the sweet spot in a deal and try to exploit it. Don’t let them. If they try to finagle an extra half-hour of TV time or seconds on dessert, let them know that you stick to set boundaries and can’t be played.

Kid entrepreneurs are involved.

The stereotypical tycoon may be all about the money, but the most successful businesses are based on unique solutions to a specific human problem. To come up with the best ideas, you need to think about others. Get kids involved in the wider community through civic groups and charitable projects. Doing so will help them gain insight into life beyond their own. It also lays a solid foundation for networking. People do business with people they know and like. Kids who learn this early on will be ahead of most of their competition by the time they get to college.

Biz kids find mentors.

Help children find entrepreneurs to emulate — the younger the mentor, the better. A one-time experience will be helpful, but an ongoing relationship is even better. Television is another great source of business role models. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but skill-based reality shows give kids insight into worlds they otherwise would never see. Surf On Demand for Shark Tank, MasterChef Junior or Project Runway. Then sit back with a snack and watch your child’s inner capitalist emerge.

Lela Davidson is a freelance writer and the author of Blacklisted from the PTA and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?

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