Entrepreneurship knows no age.
Scarsdale School District students know that firsthand. Some high school and college undergrads are already a step ahead by creating their own businesses.
2019 graduate Natalie Gee’s Scarsdale Alternative School advisor told her the two businesses she ran since sophomore year had potential. The first business involved revamping vintage shirts. After watching a YouTube tutorial on how to alter shirts, Gee picked up a few from Joann’s Fabrics and created her own. The next day she wore the shirt to school and received many compliments. After that, she started making shirts for her friends for free, just to see if other students would want what she was creating. Gee quickly realized there was a market for her shirts.
Next Gee bought a sewing machine, despite not knowing how to use one. Again, she watched tutorials on YouTube, took one lesson that her mother paid for, and went the route of trial and error until she was proficient with her new skill.
“Buying the sewing machine was a risk because I didn’t know how this business would turn out,” Gee said.
The risk paid off and eventually she could make a shirt in just over half an hour. To balance her schoolwork and her new business, Gee had to schedule an hour or two a day between school and homework to make sure she could keep up with the demand.
Older SHS students started asking for custom college shirts and Gee obliged even though buying college apparel brought her rates up. Gee created an Instagram, VIP Shirts, to help market her wearables and soon Gee was shipping her shirts to Michigan, California and Wisconsin.
“I have no idea how these people even found out about me,” said Gee, who can be found on Instagram at vipshirts.
Gee, however, found it was becoming harder and harder to balance her work life and school life. She was making shirts on tight deadlines and didn’t always get paid for her work. She still loved making her own money and interacting with customers, but Gee needed a change. That’s when she pivoted to being a make-up artist for hire.
Her first job was doing makeup for senior girls on Halloween. The girls were going as dark angels, so Gee used stage makeup. Her mother posted her daughter’s availability on Facebook and from there it “blew up in a great way” according to Gee. She’s now on Instagram at nataliegeemakeup.
Trying to market herself in any way she could, Gee would tell parents, friends and family about her business, as well as making another Instagram to show off her makeup work. Her shirt business took a backseat and she found that being a makeup artist was less demanding and more profitable for her, especially since most of her clients required her services for weekend events.
Gee has always been interested in business, and plans on taking her makeup service with her to the University of Miami School of Business this fall, especially since she won’t be able to work on her shirts as she “can’t bring a sewing machine to college.”
Like Gee, most students who create a business at a young age have always had an interest in the kind of work it entails. A set of sophomore boys at Scarsdale started Talenthood, which connects high school students who can teach a child something new or help nurture a skill they already have. The tagline is “Big kids teaching little kids.”
Talenthood CEO Cooper Cohen got the idea after numerous parents asked if he could give their children soccer lessons. After one parent asked if he knew anyone who could teach their child how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, Cohen wanted to start connecting these parents to high school students who wanted jobs. After sharing his idea with longtime friend Levi Ring, who now runs operations, the two set up a website (talenthood.com) and started asking around the school for students who had talents they could share with others.
Cohen and Ring have about 60 student teachers and a four-person team for recruitment and social media, and they are always looking to add to the talent pool. Over the past eight months they have helped set up more than 250 lessons. Going beyond sports, the boys have included music, technology, academics, babysitting and creative activities, such as painting and dancing.
The teachers get paid and Talenthood takes a fee to donate to charity. The three predetermined charities featured on the website are the Play on Foundation, the White Plains Hospital Foundation and Children’s Hope Chest. Cohen and Ring want to demonstrate the importance of giving back and philanthropy, so they ask the clients where the donation should go. Cohen called it, “Giving them the power to give back.”
Ring and Cohen are also looking at other foundations and organizations to create partnerships with, hoping to encourage high school students to volunteer their time and skills.
Instead of seeing this as just another job, Cohen and Ring love teaching lessons and running a business, and they always find time for it among schoolwork and other commitments and responsibilities.
“I consider it time off from my schoolwork,” said Ring. “It’s fun and rewarding to work with these kids and help them at something you love.”
“This is something that I enjoy, which is why Levi and I have pursued this so much,” added Cohen. “It’s not exactly managing time; it’s something that I enjoy doing so I’m going to make sure I make time for it.”
Running Talenthood has taught Cooper and Ring a lot about the business world, especially about organization, marketing and communication between clients, students and other employees. Along the way there have been hiccups about things like pricing or scheduling, but the two students try to take care of issues swiftly and quickly, while also learning from the experience.
Behind the lens
Patrick Dwyer, a 2016 SHS graduate, started a small photography and cinematography business while at SUNY New Paltz. Though business has been slow over the summer, Dwyer worked four cinematography jobs during the school year.
As a sophomore at Scarsdale, Dwyer’s interest in photography was piqued. The summer after freshman year at New Paltz his passion peaked. Dwyer later entered a film festival and even though the movie wasn’t his best work, he enjoyed the process.
“I guess one day I just decided that I personally feel as though I deserve to get paid for my photos because I feel like they’re worth something,” Dwyer said.
Like Gee, Dwyer started building his Instagram (ursa.major.photography) to show off his work, as well as a website (patrickjd512.wixsite.com/website). Unlike Gee, however, Dwyer feels he hasn’t gotten the traction that he was expecting, especially since it seems like many clients end up falling through.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to reschedule photo shoots,” Dwyer said.
Through the process of having to reschedule and work around his schoolwork, Dwyer has found that planning ahead and keeping everything he needs organized is vital. To work around school, Dwyer usually plans his photo shoots for weekends, but tries to find time for weekday shoots if a client insists.
Since starting his business in October 2018, Dwyer has developed skills and different ways of thinking about how to run a business. His goal is to make people feel “comfy and confident” in themselves during shoots, so he knew that had to start with the way he presented himself.
“It’s taught me that in order to keep your business afloat it’s all on you,” Dwyer said. “My photo page and career has had a lot of ups and downs from last year, but they all depended on if I was willing to work for the ups or not.”
In all three cases, family and friends have been important contributors to the success of a business. Gee said that her father always wanted her to go into business and her mother investing in a sewing machine helped take her to the next level. Cohen and Ring’s parents helped their sons with the legality side of the business, as well as with insurance and taxes. Dwyer’s aunt was hesitant at first, but after realizing how much his photography meant to him she started supporting him “financially and emotionally,” according to Dwyer.
Friends were also a big factor in these ventures. Gee used her friends as a way to test the waters and model her clothes, Cohen and Ring called on their friends to be student teachers and mentors for kids in the community, and Dwyer started his business because of the strong encouragement coming from his pals.
Social media, especially Instagram, made it easier for these students to market themselves and their products.
Through a quick search on the internet a person can easily find articles and websites that encourage entrepreneurship. Articles like “50 Business Ideas for College Students,” “Why college students should run their own business,” and “How to start a small business while in college” are just a few of the articles that pop up if you’re looking to join your peers by creating your own venture.