I’ve now had the opportunity to talk with a number of entrepreneurs still too young to rent a car, if not buy a drink, and I always walk away impressed at the drive and determination they possess at an age when most of us were still struggling to figure things out, if we’d even gotten so far as to make that effort.
Most recently I spoke with Naomi Porter, a 16 year old serial entrepreneur, education reform advocate, and student leader. She founded Spice It Up, Bright Futures and EntrepreYOUership from her home in Los Angeles. Naomi founded Spice It Up, a company that sells travel spice kits that are portable and affordable. The kit is reusable, waterproof, and lightweight- perfect for all adventures. Next, she launched Bright Futures, where she manages a team that serves students requiring academic support. Finally, recently, Naomi founded EntrepreYOUership to provide youth with access to entrepreneurial education by providing free workshops and mentoring to youth interested in entrepreneurship.
Mary Juetten: When did you start?
Naomi Porter: My first business, Spice it Up, was launched when I was 11. When traveling or camping, I noticed it was inconvenient to pack bulky spice containers. There were no compact, travel kits on the marketplace, so I created a product to meet this need.
Serial entrepreneurs are always looking for the next way to help their community. Bright Futures was launched when I was 13 because I noticed many sixth graders struggling with the academic and organizational demands of middle school and knew I could help.
EntrepreYOUership was launched when I was 15. One barrier to entrepreneurship is that young people have limited access to information about how to get started. As a self-educated entrepreneur, I noticed a lack of classes and extracurricular opportunities for youth to learn about and practice entrepreneurship. My work addresses this need by providing free youth led workshops and connecting participants to start up funding opportunities.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Porter: My work is centered around making our world a more sustainable and equitable place and each of my businesses aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, as outlined by the United Nations:
Spice it Up aligns with S.D.G. 12, which is to ensure sustainable consumption by substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, and reuse. Spice It Up meets this goal by providing a product that embraces the need to reduce unnecessary consumption through reusable products.
Bright Futures aligns with S.D.G. 8 by promoting youth employment, education, and training. Tutors receive ongoing training and support to help them achieve the company’s vision.
EntrepreYOUership addresses the lack of access to affordable entrepreneurial education. Through investing in and mentoring young entrepreneurs, this project addresses S.D.G. 8, which aims to “promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. The U.N. clearly outlines youth employment, education, and training as an area of need. My work equips youth to make their own jobs, based on needs and opportunities they identify in their communities.
Entrepreneurship is the future and we need to work together to create better pathways into the jobs of today and tomorrow. Young people need access to entrepreneurial education that can lead each of us on a path of professional stability.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Porter: Spice kits are sold through my company’s Instagram account and at local trade fairs, holiday boutiques, and events. Clients for Bright Futures are found through local advertising. Our company donates gift certificates valid for free tutoring services that are auctioned at school fundraisers, which yields a steady flow of clients.
EntrepreYOUership provides free entrepreneurial education by partnering with existing organizations that serve youth. We host online workshops that are innovative, attractive, and with a payoff. Our workshops include social interaction and business plan writing support, without excessive lectures or powerpoints. The payoff is that participants have access to start up funds and their businesses are promoted through social media platforms. We have hosted 25+ workshops for 250+ youth.
Our team hosts conversational “Think Tank” sessions where youth receive support from teen entrepreneurs and peers. This provides feedback and support, leading to thoughtful and viable business plans that address these questions: How is your business different than your competition’s? What marketing strategies will ensure success? Who will buy your product/access your service? What physical items do you need to get started?
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Porter: Through my work as an entrepreneur, I have realized that there is an intersection between entrepreneurship and activism. Many of the social problems we face are opportunities for entrepreneurial minds to address them. The path forward to address climate change, racial inequalities, and economic injustices will require young people to look at our individual talents and ask: “How can I use my talents and passions to make the world a better place?”
My advocacy work is focused on changing the way we educate youth. I am spending my life creating more access and equity in our education system so that all young people can be equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset.
My work to widen access to entrepreneurial education has been inspired by my personal experience. My top-rated Southern California school has few pathways, courses, programs, or extracurriculars for students interested in business and entrepreneurship. For this reason, I have created my own path that involves self-education, independent research, and seeking mentor support.
EntrepreYOUership is a pathway that gives youth access to education, resources, and support. This began as my Girl Scout Gold Award project, but has evolved into an ongoing project to serve youth while advocating for the inclusion and expansion of entrepreneurial education in our communities.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Porter: With EntrepreYOUership, I intentionally recruited a diverse team from across the United States, including African American, Caucasian, Asian, and Latinx teen entrepreneurs. It gives young people confidence to enter spaces when they can connect with someone they identify with.
This project is youth-led in order to debunk the myth that entrepreneurship is reserved for adults with fancy degrees who have access to venture capital. Our tagline is “You can do it too” because we want youth to see themselves as entrepreneurs who can create a product or service, even when they are young.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Porter: I participated in the 2017 Young Entrepreneur’s Academy Start Up Funding Competition and won $250 in funds to purchase materials for Spice it Up. Funding for EntrepreYOUership was provided by my Girl Scout troop as a part of my Girl Scout Gold Award.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Porter: My favorite startup stories involve building connections between people through conversations, community building, and personal growth. The Human Library, a Denmark-based organization, addresses people’s prejudices by using a library analogy of lending people who are trained as books. This organization emphasizes the importance of understanding each other’s life experiences and differences in order to build a more empathetic and diverse world.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Porter: I measure success by the social impact of my work. Being an entrepreneur is about making the world a better place. To me, success is not about making money fast and being my own boss. Rather, it’s about identifying a need, finding a solution, building a team, and serving others.
At the core of entrepreneurship is the practice of using your individual talents to benefit our collective society. In recent history, entrepreneurs have introduced products and services that create micro efficiencies and conveniences. However, Generation Z needs to be equipped to achieve global outcomes. We need entrepreneurship to address the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals to achieve a world where our collective challenges are addressed and nobody is left behind.
My favorite success story is the Library of Things, a U.K. business built on the idea of collective ownership of material goods. Why buy when you can borrow? Members can borrow tents, power tools, kitchen supplies, and other items that require only occasional use. The social impact of this organization affects the way consumers make choices by reducing consumption.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
- When things aren’t going right, go left. One year into my first business venture, my sales fell flat. Word of mouth sales only carry you so far and listing your product online doesn’t guarantee sales. I had to try something different, so I reached out to over 50 travel gear websites, asking them to review my product. Gearhose published a product review in 2018 which boosted our visibility and sales.
- Find a way for your business to stand out. When creating a business as generic as a tutoring company, I had to look for an edge. Why would clients choose our company? Bright Futures stands out because we offer midweek check-ins between tutoring sessions to talk with our clients about the skills we practiced. This offers accountability and lets our clients know we care and want them to reach their full potential. When the pandemic moved our lives online, it was a seamless transition from in person tutoring to virtual. Our clients were accustomed to using technology to connect with us.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Porter: I am in the process of scaling up EntrepreYOUership by identifying more mentors. Youth entrepreneurs who are in various stages of startup have valuable voices and perspectives that help new entrepreneurs.
We are expanding and widening our reach. Our work has been entirely virtual, so we have the infrastructure to engage students worldwide. I am continually looking for organizations that want to collaborate to equip their youth with an entrepreneurial mindset through our workshops and think tank sessions.
The success of our 2020 Start Up Funding competition has led me to seek further funding so that we can help more youth secure the physical items and materials needed to launch. As the opportunity for in-person events returns, we hope to offer conferences and workshops to help more youth explore entrepreneurship.
Thanks to Naomi for taking some time from her many ventures to answer my questions. Her work ethic appears second-to-none, and her approach to entrepreneurship and activism is certainly inspiring. #onwards