In April of this year, CEOs of Tommorow hosted its 7th Teen Pitch & Launch Event, the culminating event of the organization’s 10-week long incubator program in which participating teens created and showcased business of their own creation.
Of those participating, several were chosen for a variety of awards one of which was the “People’s Choice” award. The recipient was Aidan Yang, a 14-year-old founder and owner of Flaky Salt, a meal-kit delivery business.
“It doesn’t concern me much that I didn’t get first place. Because to me, after I thought about it, the first place is what the judges thought. Since I got the People’s Choice Award award, that means that customers like me more, not the judges, but the customers,” Yang said. “So if I were to expand my business, I could drive in more customers. So I don’t have to directly aim my business at judges, because there’s not really just as a mortgage, or if you’re launching your own business. I’m really happy with the People’s Choice [award].”
Yang loves to cook. It is his passion. However, it was only when his teacher, noticing Yang’s cooking prowess and prompting him to sign up for the program, that Yang considers entrepreneurship. And despite being a grade too young for the program, Yang flourished, said Dr. Roxie Hentz, the CEO and founder of CEOs of Tomorrow.
“His teacher actually recommended him and said, ‘I guarantee you, he’ll be able to handle this high school level.’ Although it’s for high schoolers, it’s very rigorous for our students. They open a business in 10 weeks. And he was able to easily integrate with, challenge, encourage and inspire his peers. [Aidan is] a ball of inquisitive [energy], very self-motivated, a driven leader. And that was clear from day one. But what really stands out about Aidan is what I would call courageousness.”
In addition to creating a business, Aidan and his peers in the incubator were also asked to choose a social issue their business could address or combat. This, noted Hentz, is essential to the program.
“It was apparent that they’re seen experiencing and are exposed in real time right now to real issues that are significantly impacting their lives, impacting their family’s lives, impacting the community and impacting the world,” Hentz said. “They do not have to wait until they’re an adult to make a difference around an issue that’s important.”
Yang chose to help the LGBTQ+ community, donating 15 percent of his earnings to GSAFE.
“I chose LGBTQ+ because I’m queer. And I know that I’m in this club at school called GSAFE. I heard some students and their stories were very concerning, because some of them didn’t want to be too loud online because their parents didn’t like the idea of LGBTQ+,” Yang said. “So I thought that I would donate 15 percent of our money to GSAFE in Madison, because GSAFE helps out with teens that are struggling with coming out or aren’t comfortable at home.”
“It’s not enough to teach kids how to open a business. Teach them to change the world,” Hertz echoed.
“We’re not trying to build entrepreneurs. We’re building entrepreneurial thinkers who utilize those skills in everything they do,” she continued. “Because once you have entrepreneurial skills, risk taking skills, goal setting, what it’s like to be resilient, what it’s like to fail and grow from that failure, all of those things you learn [from] practicing being an entrepreneur, those are critical for success. We don’t care how many of them become entrepreneurs. We don’t care how many study business, if they go to college, if they choose to, we couldn’t care less. What we know is that these kids are going to be fabulous in whatever field that they go into because there are the skills that many adults are still trying to develop, and they’ve started to develop those skills today.”
Aidan plans to continue to grow Flaky Salt and pursue cooking, although he is tentative about culinary school. However, he noted, he encourages any young person with a passion to consider entrepreneurship.
“I just cooked a lot and baked a lot and I really liked it, and then that just turned into a business all of a sudden,” he said. “So I think it can be very easy. You don’t need a lot of money to start your own business, you just need a lot of commitment into your business and then I think that it will flourish if you have the right amount of commitment.”