Inspirations for big, booming businesses can come from anywhere, just as the entrepreneurial spirit can grow in all types of people. Ten-year-old Kylee Majkowski of McLean, is one entrepreneur whose idea two years ago resulted in Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand (TLS), a business that teaches elementary school age children how to thrive as entrepreneurs themselves. TLS is one of 14 semifinalists Ballston Business Improvement District (BID)’s first LaunchPad Challenge, a contest for local entrepreneurs with sustainable business ideas.
According to Ballston BID CEO, Tina Leone, there were more than 225 applications, and the overall winner will be announced after the final round on Dec. 4.
"When we announced this program in January 2013, our goals were to generate new opportunities for people to create, collaborate, learn, and network and to spread the word about Ballston being the place for research, discovery and imagination — we are ‘Where Minds Meet,’" Leone said. "We were looking for the next big idea, but we had several important things we wanted to accomplish — encourage and support entrepreneurship, strengthen the connections within our community and attract more great minds to start up and grow their businesses here in Ballston."
Leone added that the final prize will include a $15,000 cash prize, donated legal time with Saul Ewing, LLP, office space in Ballston with Intelligent Office, and office furniture donated by Washington Workplace.
Amanda Antico-Majkowski, co-founder of TLS and mother of Kylee, said when she heard about local competition, she knew their quickly growing family venture was a perfect contender. After two years of working to keep TLS running, the expanding business for "mini-preneurs."
"At the time, I was an independent consultant, and I would look for interesting projects for my clients," Antico-Majkowski said. "The Launchpad opportunity came to us through an Advisory Board member. When I saw it, I thought, this is the kind of thing where ‘TLS’ can fit the bill," she said. "We are only five minutes down the road from Ballston and we see the growth there."
Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand is a company that teaches children to adopt and nurture the qualities and confidence it takes to be an entrepreneur through lessons, games and other activities. The business started two years ago when a then second-grade Kylee came home from school frustrated with school and limited options for extracurricular activities.
"We teach entrepreneurship, empathy, creativity, risk and passion," said Kylee, CEO of Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand. "And so we do this by playing fun games and using an online badging system. One is ‘Walking of Shoes,’ … It is all about trying to find out what it is like to be in other peoples’ shoes. It is all part of teaching kids the basics of entrepreneurship and empathy, and every kid loves games."
Antico-Majkowski said she recognized that Kylee had a great idea, and because of both her parental concern and her own business experience, she helped Kylee put the program together.
"Kylee came up with this idea in second grade because she was frustrated with what was happening at school," she said. "In all honesty, the situation was, I thought my kid had a good idea. I thought it would be a three to six month trial. I thought nothing ‘big’ would happen. I was wrong. We have created something magical here."
She said Kylee’s project did more than just entertain her friends and classmates, though. They incorporated the company as a limited liability corporation (LLC) in March 2012, and it has become so popular that the website has reached interested groups in 42 parts of the country.
"She and all her friends wrote the program," Antico-Majkowski said. "I was Kylee’s typist. We had the pilot group of kids meet once a week and then we started to scale. When we finished the website, people just started finding us. We now have seven clubs in different parts of the country and 42 others have requested that we help them. So far, it’s been a labor of love."
What started as an after-school idea turned into a real family affair for the Majkowski family. Kylee said many of the ideas for the business are born from dinner table conversation — although it was her idea initially, her parents and younger brother Tyler have contributed a lot of brain power to the endeavor.
"A lot of times, the most likely spot for us to get our ideas is at the dinner table," Kylee said. "My family will sit together and just think. It is a huge brainstorming process. My dad is a genius with names. For example — ‘Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand’: he told me that when people think of a first thing you do as a child entrepreneur, you think lemonade stand — after that, we added the word Tomorrow because this is about the future."
Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand is a three-phase program, and Kylee and Antico-Majkowski said they compare it to a scouting program. There are badges and requirements that participants have to earn and complete before the move up to the next "season."
"In Season One, we mostly learn the basics — the things you need to learn as an entrepreneur," Kylee said. "Then, in Season Two, you work with the skills to come up with products and businesses. In Season Three, you start selling it. You graduate as entrepreneurs by presenting to entrepreneurs. The anchors of the program are entrepreneurship and empathy, and then we have things that build off creativity, risk, and passion."
Kylee said she has entrepreneurs come in to help train the children going through the program.
"You will present to the entrepreneurs, with a slide show," she said. "You will tell them about your company, your reasons. They give you feedback in the end."
She added that there is also a graduate program for people who have gone through the original three-step program.
"We hope the graduates can teach the other kids," she said, "like a circle of mini-entrepreneurship."
Antico-Majkowski said that, as of now like any business in the beginning, there is a lot of volunteer blood, sweat and tears going into TLS — including the website, which has been crucial. It is the only way to accommodate remote requests. People sign up and pay online for access to the curriculum as well as for the training that Kylee and the TLS headquarters team will provide for the leaders.
"We have a badging program online," Antico-Majkowski said. "Whenever you sign up, there is an online platform that you can access. We are building a community of mini-preneurs."
Kylee will pitch her business to a panel of six judges on this week, hoping to be named one of the three finalists. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in for the judging in the semi-finals as well.
The final round on Dec. 4 will be a pitch to a board of judges comprised of businessmanTed Leonsis, first and former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and Saul Ewing LLP Partner Mark Gruhin.
Leone said she hopes all the contenders will continue to grow in the Arlington area.
"Each team has made amazing progress over these last few months," she said. "Some have changed their company names, some have added team members and created jobs, and all have sharpened their focus as they’ve refined and perfected their business plans. We will continue to support and track the progress of all the challengers as they grow and develop. We would like for them to continue being role models for entrepreneurship and collaboration, symbolic of what we are doing here in Ballston … we will encourage them to stay in our community and choose Ballston as the home for their businesses."
Leone said Kylee’s success in this competition is encouraging for her as she looks at future generations of entrepreneurs and innovators. It is part of the spirit of the Launchpad Challenge — to shrug off convention and move forward with big ideas for a better Ballston, and a better world at large.
"It is exciting to see the trend of entrepreneurship with the Generation Y, the Millennials and the new Generation Z, the Kylee generation," Leone said. "They are snubbing the corporate world and skipping the traditional career path process. They are not waiting to make this a better world, and instead they are blazing their own trails early on. In my view, it is a workforce revolution. Kylee, our youngest applicant and challenger, is a leader in this movement by creating opportunities for more young people to explore their own entrepreneurial spirit."