CLEVELAND, Ohio – When Tory Coats owned an insurance agency on St. Clair Avenue about 10 years ago, neighborhood children would sometimes pop into his office and ask him for a dollar or some change.
“I’m not going to give you a dollar, but I’ll teach you how to earn a dollar,” he would tell them. Then he’d pay them for small chores such as sweeping the office or handing out flyers. “That’s entrepreneurship,” he told them.
Coats, now director of career readiness at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, used the experience to start his own business, Teen Enterprise LLC, teaching business skills to young people and coaching and inspiring them to become entrepreneurs.
In February, he won $5,000 in a pitch competition presented by Citizens Bank and the Cleveland Leadership Center for his idea to turn a vacant Slavic Village storefront into a half-dozen “Dare 2 Believe Young Entrepreneur Pop-Up Shops.”
On Saturday afternoon, he proudly introduced visitors to the teenagers who had set up shop there for the afternoon:
Jalen Flowers, 16, a junior at Euclid High School, is the founder of Positive Lifestyle. He was selling T-shirts that said: “Dream Chaser,” asking passers-by “What’s your dream? How do you want to get there?”
Josette Stewart started J Bandz custom headbands at age 13. When she couldn’t find the kind of headbands she wanted to wear, her mother challenged her to make her own.
Josette started out sewing the headbands by hand, posted her designs on social media and took requests from friends at school. After earning enough to buy her own sewing machine, she can now create a headband in about 5 minutes, and sells her creations in person and at jbandzheadbands.com.
“My slogan is ‘Turn a bad hair day into a beautiful hair day,'” she said.
A 17-year-old senior at Willoughby South High School, she donates 20 percent of her sales every summer to a charity or nonprofit. This year, she is supporting Alive on Purpose, a suicide-prevention program.
Ramone Hardy is a senior at Garfield Heights High School and runs RnH Productions, a photography and videography company. Only 16, he says he has already shot a wedding, and posts his work on YouTube.
Joshua Johnson, 18, a senior at Euclid High School, is a painter who works mostly in acrylics and has just started selling his artwork. He said most of his pieces are inspired by people he admires, like 2Pac Shakur, or by his friends.
One mural says, “The woman [is] more than the sum of her body parts… Her mind is powerful!… The Woman: God’s Open Love Letter,” while other one depicts a young man with bound with strips of tape that read: “Ugly? Bastard? Mistake?”
Devonte Simon, 19, a sophomore at Cuyahoga Community College, is a a motivational speaker who also sells T-shirts and ball caps screen-printed with his slogans, “Be Humble” and “Support the Youth.”
He got the idea to sell clothing after all the compliments he received from elementary and middle-school students who heard him speak and wanted their own merchandise. In addition to clothing with his name on it, he will print clothing with other kids’ names on the front, and “#SupportTheYouth” on the back.
Antonio “DJ AJ” Law, 13, an 8th grader at St. Stanislaus School, has already been deejaying for five years, following in the footsteps of his grandmother, Phyllis Walton. He used to play with her turntables, and then downloaded the Virtual DJ app and launched his own business.
“Entrepreneurship is not easy,” Coates told the teenaged entrepreneurs. “If I told you that you have a 10 percent success rate, most people wouldn’t choose to do that. The chances are, you’re going to fail 90 percent of the time.”
“We all should congratulate these young people for taking the initiative, for putting their cell phones down,” and pursuing their dreams, he said.