Young entrepreneurs turn creative ideas into businesses

April 11, 2014
"Zombie Survival and Defense Soap." (Photo by Cynthia Altieri)
"Zombie Survival and Defense Soap" is part of a line of soaps from Mary's Milk Monsters. (Photo by Cynthia Altieri)
Mary Altieri at the Astoria Sunday Market. (Photo by Cynthia Altieri)
Mary Altieri operates a booth at the Astoria Sunday Market selling soap. (Photo by Cynthia Altieri)
Tyler Delay's "Message in a Bottle." (Photo courtesy Clatsop County 4-H)
Tyler Delay makes the product "Message in a Bottle." (Photo courtesy Clatsop County 4-H)

Mary Altieri of Astoria received baby dairy goats, or kids, for her eighth birthday. In less than a year, those goats were old enough to give birth to kids of their own. Soon she had more goats' milk than her family could drink. Mary hit upon a solution — why not sell goat milk soap?

"I didn't want all that goaty goodness going down the drain," Mary said.

So Mary started her business, "Mary's Milk Monsters," at age 9, and soon ran her own booth at the Astoria Sunday Market. In just two years, market goers came to recognize Mary's pink baseball cap, white apron and friendly smile. In the thick of market season, Mary crafts and sells nearly 20 new bars of soap each week.  

Mary learned how to make and sell her soap by joining the Young Entrepreneurs Club from the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program and the Astoria Sunday Market. The club, open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, was a longtime dream of Astoria Sunday Market director Cyndi Mudge.

"I contacted 4-H because I knew 4-H designed programs for lots of age groups to learn life skills," Mudge said. "I figured this would be a way for those kids to take their skills and projects to the next level."

Since 2009, the club has taught more than 50 youth who have sold more than 80 items at the Astoria Sunday Market, according to Sandra Carlson, 4-H youth educator for the OSU Extension Service in Clatsop County.  This year's kids have already introduced their products to the class, including rubber band bracelets, Lego necklaces, crocheted bookmarks and homemade crayons, Carlson said.

Past business ideas have included jewelry, Duct tape wallets and "Joy Jars" — jars full of paper slips with positive sayings. Two sisters started a business called "The Pupcakery" that sold dog biscuits and dog-themed custom paintings, greeting cards, journals and jewelry. Olivia Meik, age 12, creates rag dolls representing historic figures or book characters and sells them at the market while wearing historic costumes. She made one doll out of alpaca yarn she spun herself to look like Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter book series.

One of the club's first members, 12-year-old Tyler Delay, created a product called Message in a Bottle, a recycled plastic bottle with a slip of paper inside and enclosed with a screw cap. Tyler places a mailing label and postage on the outside of the bottle so that you can actually mail it without a box — similar to a small mailing tube. He sells them at three maritime museums and a market for the cruise ships that dock at the Port of Astoria.

Carlson and Mudge developed the curriculum and co-teach monthly workshops for budding entrepreneurs from February through June. Club members exchange their challenges and experiences with past club members and adult vendors. Kids also must explain their product in front of the group and to community organizations such as the Astoria Rotary Club. These experiences sharpen their public-speaking skills, Carlson said.

Kids also role-play several activities to learn about fundamental business topics such as how to sell their products and the importance of how they dress and conduct themselves while selling. For example, kids do an exercise in which teachers give them a random item from a "prop box" and they act out a "commercial" that sells that product to other kids.

Finally, they sell their product in the real world at the Young Entrepreneurs booth at Astoria Sunday Market during the summer. 

"We're teaching kids skills that will put them ahead in life. This club helps them develop their passions," Mudge said. "The more passionate you are about what you're doing, the more you'll succeed."

Mary's passion is goats. Mary's soaps made from olive oil, essential oils and goat milk have quirky names like "Zombie Survival and Defense Soap," which she recommends to use daily "to mask the living human scent and repel zombies." In addition to Mary's booth at the market, she manages an Etsy shop, a blog and a Facebook page. And she passes on her knowledge to new young entrepreneurs.  

For Mary, who is taught at home, entrepreneurship has given her a good work ethic, said her mom, Cynthia Altieri. Mary's day sometimes starts at 5 a.m. to get ready for the market. Every day, rain or shine, holiday or not, the goats need her attention.

Mary's passion not only started her business, but also helped it flourish. 

"I get to talk to a lot of different people and at the end of the day I get money, which I use to feed my goats since feed gets pricey," Mary said. 

To learn more about the Young Entrepreneurship Club, visit Astoria Sunday Market's website. Or call Clatsop County 4-H at (503) 325-8573. 

Author: Denise Ruttan
Source: Sandra Carlson