Michigan has always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, including the likes of Motown’s Berry Gordy, Quicken Loan’s Dan Gilbert, Amway co-founder Jay VanAndel and hundreds of others.
But there’s a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit in our country and state, and our tri-county area is no exception — thanks to the enterprising efforts of young people with exciting new products and ideas.
Here are nine entrepreneurs age 21 and under who are making an impact in business and innovation. This is only a glimpse of the energy, savvy and ambition of this young generation, according to Entrepreneur.com.
Alina Morse, 14
When Alina Morse of Walled Lake was just 7, she learned that lollipops are bad for teeth, and she set her off to find more tooth-friendly versions. After 100 trials, she and her dad had a solution: replacing sugar with natural sweeteners like xylitol and erythritol, and a new business called Zollipops. The company also makes taffy and hard candy, and is sold in 7,500 stores, including Whole Foods, plus Amazon. Zollipops is projected to hit $5- to $6 million in retail sales this year.
Moziah Bridges, 16
Moziah Bridges, founder and creative director of Mo’s Bows, started his business at age 9 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he’d ride his bike in his neighborhood wearing a suit and tie. His favorite ties were bow ties. He asked his grandmother to teach him to sew, and Mo’s Bows was born. Since 2011, Bridges has earned nearly $700,000 in sales, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and signed a one-year licensing deal with the NBA to create signature bow ties for each team. His short-term goals are to get his driver’s license and buy a Jeep.
Rachel Zietz, 18
“There are a lot of bumps along the way, but the biggest bump is being a teenager,” said Rachel Zietz about her entrepreneurial journey. At 13, Rachel Zietz founded Gladiator Lacrosse to make durable, affordable practice equipment for her favorite sport. Today, Gladiator Lacrosse is sold at national retailers and is projected to do $2 million in sales this year. This summer, her gear was used at the World Lacrosse Championship, which was broadcast on ESPN. Now a freshman at Princeton studying economics, she continues to build her business.
Abby Kircher, 18
Good-for-you nut butters are Abby Kircher’s “bread and butter,” a product Abby started in her parents’ kitchen when she was 15. It has since grown into Abby’s Better, a brand distributed along the East Coast and Midwest in stores including Wegmans and Lowes Foods, with revenue over $1 million in 2018. She now runs a team of 12 employees, including her family. She’s postponing college for now but feels the sacrifices she has made as a teen have been worth it. “You know you’re working toward your goals, not someone else’s,” she said.
Brennan Agranoff, 18
Brennan Agranoff grew up in Oregon, near Nike’s headquarters, and was a huge Nike fan. But at age 13, he found the Elite brand socks to be “dull” and wanted to stand out with his own product. Buying a pair of brightly patterned socks online for $40, he decided to make his own brand. After research and making a business plan, he invested $3,000 from his parents and launched HoopSwagg, his brand of eye-catching basketball socks. Today, he has 20 employees, 700 original patterns, and $1.6 million in annual sales. “The concept of quick-turnaround, customized products is where I see the industry heading,” Agranoff said.
Anton Klingspor, 18
Anton started his entrepreneurial journey young, showing up at his family’s abrasives manufacturing company board meetings in a kid-size suit and tie. By junior high, he was dabbling in his own ventures, most notably creating a website with proprietary software that allowed his classmates to cut the line at the Adidas website to purchase in-demand Yeezy shoes, for a modest fee. In 2016, with personal capital from earlier enterprises and family investments, Klingspor launched the Miami Beach-based Indicina Ventures — an incubator and venture capital firm with a mission to help foster the ideas of young entrepreneurs who are not taken seriously by traditional venture capitalists. Currently, Indicina’s assets total $53 million.
Keiana Cavé, 20
At age 15, Keiana Cavé was fascinated with efforts to clean up the 2010 BP oil spill. She asked professors at nearby Tulane University to let her use their labs for research, and discovered that cancer-causing toxins were developing in the seawater. Now 20 and a junior at the University of Michigan, she launched her startup Mare to find ways to neutralize those toxins, to protect the ocean’s inhabitants and humans. At a pitch competition at MIT, Cavé caught the attention of a Chevron executive, which led to a $1.2-million investment and helped her build a team of 14 employees. Earlier this year, Mare was acquired by an oil-and-gas corporation, giving Cavé freedom to focus on her next project: developing a non-hormonal, over-the-counter contraceptive pill. Industry partners are already helping her work to make this a reality. “The same way I was able to change mindsets about approaching oil-spill cleanup? We just have to change mindsets again,” she said.
Zandra Cunningham, 17
When Zandra Cunningham was 9, she was obsessed with lip-gloss. With her mom’s help, she started making her own lip balms using online kits and YouTube videos for guidance. She passed out her homemade products at her church in Buffalo, New York. When she realized she could make money off her products, she experimented with new formulas for all-natural skincare products, using each failure as motivation. She enrolled in KidBiz, a summer youth program offered by SUNY Buffalo State, to learn the basics of building a business.. Today, Zandra Beauty is sold in Costco, Bed Bath
& Beyond and Wegmans with sales close to $1 million, and a pending partnership with Target.
Isabella Rose Taylor,
16 Isabella Rose Taylor
Isabella Rose Taylor launched her fashion brand for young women when she was 8 and quickly landed in local retailers and boutiques. In 2015, Nordstrom called, and her designs spread across the country. But as sales rose to the high six figures, Isabella struggled with sourcing and manufacturing, trying to scale up quickly. She restructured, and stopped working with large retailers. Now in college, she is working on partnerships to build her brand, including a 2017 collaboration with PBteen. She has also found partners to help her scale as she rebuilds her retail presence.