Writer Erica Swallow and graphic designer Li Zeng have written and illustrated a four-book children’s series on real-life kid entrepreneurs in the U.S., and they have raised more than half of an $18,000 Kickstarter campaign to publish the books. The campaign ends April 28.
At her day job, Swallow is the founder and CEO of Southern Swallow, a digital marketing agency based in Little Rock. She also has a background as a journalist and a master’s degree in business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Zeng is assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
When Swallow and Zeng set out to collaborate on a children’s literature project, they decided early on that a child or children would fill the role of protagonist. Swallow said she believes there are a lack of kid heroes in children books — that adults should put more emphasis on what young people are accomplishing now, instead of “what they want to be when they grow up.”
“Showcasing young entrepreneurs, you have awesome kid characters that are not fictional,” Swallow said.
Her interest in the stories of entrepreneurs stems from her time covering the tech beat as a reporter for Mashable in New York City. Writing about new technologies, she often interviewed small business owners and was fascinated by the way they worked, she said.
Swallow believes if children are introduced to the idea of entrepreneurship and begin down that route at an early age, who knows what they may accomplish by the time they’re in their 30s and 40s, she said.
Swallow said she wasn’t introduced to the idea of entrepreneurship as an attainable opportunity for herself until she was in college. The concept that the children featured in her books are solving problems is “very inspiring to me.”
WHITTLING IT DOWN
Zeng and Swallow searched for children to be featured in their Entrepreneur Kid series, looking for kids who were making a “big impact” on a national or global level, whether that means they have millions of users or they sell products around the globe.
The duo chose about 50 entrepreneurs from throughout the country who were under age 18, and they strived to find candidates who represented different industries and cultural diversity. They video-chatted with finalists, and once the four subjects were chosen and agreed to participate, Swallow and Zeng flew to each of their hometowns and spent time visiting with the kids and their families.
“I wanted to be sure I got the facts straight,” Swallow said.
The picture book series includes the titles: “Sebastian Creates a Sock Company,” “Gabby Invents the Perfect Bow,” “Jason Saves the Environment with Entrepreneurship,” and “Rachel Turns Her Pasion Into A Business.”
The first book tells the story of Sebastian Martinez. At age 5, Sebastian and his older brother, Brandon, founded a company called Are you Kidding? around Sebastian’s colorful sock designs. Sebastian is CEO, and Brandon is director of sales. The company is based in Miami.
The second book tells the story of Gabrielle Goodwin, who at age 7 founded GaBBY Bows in Columbia, S.C. Her company makes patented, no-slip hair barrettes. She is CEO and works with her mother, Rozalynn. The bows have been purchased in all 50 states and eight countries, according to the Entrepreneur Kid website.
Jason Li, the subject of the third book, is founder and CEO of iReTron, a Los Gatos, Calif.-based company that buys, recycles and resells old electronics. He started the company when he was 14 years old and later appeared on Shark Tank on ABC, where he received a $100,000 investment. He now attends the University of Chicago, and three of his employees are running iReTron while he’s gone, according to the Entrepreneur Kid website.
The fourth book features Rachel Zietz, founder and CEO of Gladiator Lacrosse, a multimillion-dollar business that makes lacrosse equipment. Its products are sold at Dick’s Sporting Goods and online. Her story begins during her participation in Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) at the Chamber of Commerce in her hometown of Boca Raton, Fla.
Swallow said 10% of proceeds from the Kid Kickstarter campaign will go to the Entrepreneur Kid Scholarship Fund, which the Entrepreneur Kid team plans to start in order to support entrepreneur education for children. Swallow hopes to grow the altruistic arm of the project from there, with plans to offer funding for very specific requests that will remove barriers for children entrepreneurs — say, for example, a child would like $600 for injection molding for his or her prototype.
Swallow also plans to expand the Entrepreneur Kid website as a hub of information on children business founders. She and Zeng brought on Dan Ndombe, a software engineer, technology consultant and also Swallow’s fiancé, to help expand the website and record video interviews of the Entrepreneur Kids for the site.
The featured kids, Sebastian, Gabby, Jason and Rachel will split 20% of the Kickstarter campaign proceeds, and the kids will be able to sell the books featuring them on their individual websites and keep the profit, Swallow said.
Each of the books, geared toward ages 4 to 8, ends with a call to action, asking children to look for where they can solve problems in their own lives. Each also includes a biography of the entrepreneur it features. Even if a child does not choose to start a business, an enterprising spirit can serve him or her well in their life and career, Swallow said. She and the rest of the team want to “normalize the idea that kids can create.”
“I want a kid to read about Gabby creating the perfect hair bow and think, ‘Wow. I can do something like that.”