Getting down to business

Feb. 9, 2011, 11:33 a.m. | By Maggie Shi | 11 years, 10 months ago

Blazers turn their hobbies into profitable ventures

Sophomores Leah Hammond and Allison Whitney had a major task at hand: cupcakes. The job was, simply, to bake and decorate them, but there was a catch. It wasn't just a couple cupcakes, or a dozen, or even a couple dozen - it was 300.

The two baked and decorated diligently, day in and day out. Finally finished after two days of baking, they packed the cupcakes up and brought them to the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., just in time.

But, this was not an outrageous round in a competitive baking show. For Hammond and Whitney, it was just another order at Ally and Leah's Cupcakes. For the two, the ability to handle such responsibilities was just another lesson from owning their own business.

According to Junior Achievement, an organization that promotes teen entrepreneurship, 69% of teens say they would like to start their own business. When teens start their own businesses, they learn true life lessons - lessons that can't be taught in a classroom but instead by getting involved in the real world.


When Whitney and Hammond first started their business in eighth grade, it wasn't to learn such lessons or even to gain work experience. Whitney says that the business first began as a way for the two friends to bond after Whitney had returned from moving to California and Florida.

The two reconnected over a shared hobby, baking. "We wanted to find a way to rekindle the friendship," Hammond says. "And cupcakes were in." They started taking small orders from their friends and word of the business spread among their classmates.

By the end of eighth grade, the business had expanded to bigger orders, like catering to Blair's "Sweeney Todd" in 2009. Now, the two regularly cater to birthday parties, community get-togethers and special events. According to Hammond, the two spend about five to six hours each week baking, decorating and planning.

This kind of time commitment is common when running a business, especially if the business requires making and then selling products. Senior Orion McCarthy, for example, spent most of his summer making ceramics for his business, Pottery by Orion, in preparation for his first pottery sale at the Takoma Park Street Festival.

In his first sale, McCarthy sold 36 pieces. McCarthy first picked up ceramics in sophomore year at Blair, but only started selling pieces when his neighbors suggested he share a booth with them during the Street Festival.

Up until the holidays, McCarthy was working to bulk up inventory for such festivals and prepare for holiday orders.

Not only did he have to keep his business going, but he also had to fit in time for schoolwork. "It was kind of difficult to bulk up [the inventory] because the sales were at the same time as college applications," McCarthy says. Managing schoolwork and the business became a balancing act and a test of time-management for him. "I would reserve certain days for school and certain days for pottery," he says.

Likewise for Whitney and Hammond, the workload was stressful at times. "We both play sports, and Leah's in [the Communications Arts Program]," Whitney says. "[The business] takes up a lot of time, especially in the critical years of high school."

Out of school, in the real world

Real-life time management skills are only part of the responsibility that comes with running a business, and most other necessary skills can't be studied in the classroom — they have to be experienced. Teachers stress accountability time and again, but Hammond says that running a business emphasizes this even more. "It's definitely taught me a lot of responsibility because you can't just blow off, can't ignore [an order]," she says.

Whitney says that owning a business prepares her for the future. "It teaches me about future encounters in life, as well as being responsible, planning things and time management."

In general, McCarthy says he has honed his people skills and learned to take customers' criticism with grace. In addition, he has learned many business-specific tactics, like deciding how to price his pieces. He says that a piece which is sentimental to him might not be worth as much in the eyes of the customer. "It made me think more about money and view money in a different way," he says.

At the end of the day, this enjoyment is the true reason Blazers like Whitney, Hammond and McCarthy start businesses. The lessons they learn, the people they meet, or even the profits. They do it simply because, as McCarthy says, they love it.

Maggie Shi. More »

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