15 Year Old Social Entrepreneur

June 6, 2011  |  136 comments

Written by Brent Freeman, Founder and CEO of Roozt.com

What I need you to do is to close your eyes and think back to when you were 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. Go ahead, think of something you did that year that you were proud of, excited about, or thought was going to affect your life forever. (Seriously, go ahead,  I’ll wait…)

Pretty amazing what emotions were just evoked, huh? Whether it be a sporting event, play you were in, dance you went to, or party you attended, chances are it’s a fond memory that you have kept with you for years. But while this memory may have seemed significant then, truth for most of us (including myself) is that this memory probably didn’t involve starting a business that could be a game changing innovation.

Cue Hayley Hoverter, the 15 year old sophomore at Downtown Magnet High School in Los Angeles. Hayley is currently in the process of creating her fond memory from sophomore year, except her memory involves developing an innovative for-profit-for-difference business that could eliminate paper sugar packets in coffee shops all across Los Angeles and beyond. With an average coffee shop in LA tearing through 1,000 or more paper sugar packets every day, Hayley is on to something.

But where did this concept stem from? That’s where we come in. Roozt set out in the Fall of 2010 to teach a for-profit social entrepreneurship class to a group of high school students in a low income area of Los Angeles, who will soon become the business leaders of tomorrow. The thought process was that if we could help instill the values of for-profit-for-difference business acumen into these students, as they go on to college and the workforce, they will be progressive leaders helping use business as a vehicle to create positive change in today’s world.

Roozt/NFTE Social Entrepreneurship Class - Los Angeles 2010 (Center Back Row: Roozt Founders Brent Freeman & Norma LaRosa, Left Front: NFTE Teacher Michael Jaquias)

To implement this idea, I approached the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship chapter in Greater Los Angeles and proposed a pilot program where we would modify their existing curriculum to teach social entrepreneurship. The idea was to have students identify problems in their communities they were passionate about and then create for-profit business models around helping solve those same problems. No easy task, but if done right, could be a game changer.

So September of 2010, I found myself in a class of 35 low-income students, in a highly under-funded LAUSD school district with zero prior teaching experience. My counterpart was NFTE teacher Michael Jaquias and for the next year, we taught the fundamentals of business, entrepreneurship, and giving back– all through the lens of a social entrepreneur.

Students were challenged to create cause marketing campaigns with “pop-up” retail stores in their high school where they were given $20, taken to a local wholesale market, told to negotiate and create retail products to sell at lunch. The kicker was that every “pop-up store” had to have a cause attached to it. Through this exercise, students learned the value of balancing good business practices with solid marketing and communication practices so their customers could understand “why” they should buy their products, not just the “what” they were buying.

But this class wasn’t just an ordinary class where students said “I don’t know when I’ll ever get to use this in real life.” And let’s be honest, we all said that at some point in High School. So this was my opportunity to make this class real for the students and show them that through social entrepreneurship they can control their own destiny, future, and happiness. To make that happen, Roozt teamed up with MyCorporation.com, an online platform that helps entrepreneurs with their legal needs, to offer a real-life business launch kit that the winner of the class room social venture business plan competition could use to actuallylaunch their company. This included everything from a free entity incorporation, website, logo, accounting software, business guide books, and much more. This carrot at the end of the stick made the class have tangible real world outcomes that our students truly resonated with.

And that resonation manifested into results with each of our students creating and presenting a for-profit-for-difference business plan at the end of the semester, with Hayley Hoverter taking the Grand Prize at their classroom competition hosted at USC, with judges like Bobby Bailey – Founder of Invisible Children, Adlai Wertman – Director of the USC Society Business Lab, & Larry Kopald – 1% For The Planet Board Member.

Roozt/NFTE Students watching peer Grand Prize Winner, Hayley Hoverter (center) test her prototypes before presenting

Now, what does Hayley’s business do? SweetSerendipiTea wraps single servings of sugar in soluble rice paper that is completely tasteless and odorless, eliminating the “paper sugar packets of the past”. Dispensed from a cylindrical bamboo container with tongs that sits on the coffee shop counter, these sugar packs are not only innovative and 100% sanitary, they are totally eco-friendly as Hayley has partnered with the American Forests so for every box purchased they will plant a tree. Beyond that, Hayley already has customers in hand with 10 of her local coffee shop managers wanting to buy from her. Drop it in, stir, and enjoy. Brilliant.

As a finalist is the NFTE Greater Los Angeles overall competition Hayley competes against two other students for a chance to go to New York to the National NFTE Competition and win $10,000.

Amidst her success, Hayley maintains her cool, nonchalant attitude simply saying “All that paper waste heading into the landfill for something so trivial as putting sugar into your coffee just seemed so old-fashioned.” Indeed it is Hayley, indeed it is.

Read more about the Roozt / NFTE Social Entrepreneurship Pilot Program here on Forbes.com

Or Watch the Forbes Video here:


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