Young Entrepreneurs

Pencil Bugs: Made by a kid but not just for kids

Jason O’Neill’s cute critters are making homework just a little more enjoyable.

When Forbes called to tell him he had made their Top 10 Role Models 18 & Under list in January 2008, Jason had to ask his mom who they were.

“I didn’t know what Forbes was. My parents had to explain it to me,” he says smiling.

“(Forbes writes about) celebrities and people who have done much more amazing things for much longer than I have. It’s a real honor.”

Jason is the creator of Pencil Bugs, a quirky craft meant to motivate kids to do their homework. He began when he was just nine. The inspiration struck in a roundabout way when he saw his mom creating crafts for a local craft fair.

“I thought if I helped her I would get some of the money,” Jason says, “but mom said I had to come up with my own idea.”

After a few failed attempts Jason hit upon his first Pencil Bug, which he painted his favorite color- red.

They come in eight colors and have Styrofoam heads and springlike antennae. They sit on the end of any pencil, pen or marker.

A huge success at the fair, Jason began selling them at school. When another boy offered to buy his idea, Jason realized he was on to something big.

“I thought I’d better pursue this, and that’s what I did,” he says.  “I’ve learned if you don’t know something it isn’t that bad you just have to find someone who does.”

encil Bugs has since expanded to include greeting cards, bookmarks, and even t-shirts. One day there may even be a video game or movie.

Jason, now 13, has become a public speaker. He is often invited to schools where he hopes to inspire other kids to follow their dreams.

Jason even shared a stage with Mark Victor Hanson, co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. Impressed, Hanson included Jason in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Extraordinary Teens edition, and Richest Kids in America.

“Richest Kids includes all different aspects of rich,” says Jason. “I haven’t made millions yet, I’m on my way to hopefully, but I’m rich in many other ways also.”

Due to their success, Pencil Bugs will be moving to a manufacturing facility in the near future.

In 2006, Jason received the Young Philanthropist of the Year award for his charitable donations. Every quarter he takes a portion of his profits and buys toys for Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego.

“I’ve never been in the hospital,” he says, “but I know if I was I’d want someone to think about me and to maybe do something to make it a little easier.”

This Christmas, Jason is raising money to donate 250 teddy bears to the hospital. Truly, this young entrepreneur is definitely an amazing role model.

AstroTots Space Camp for Little Dippers

AstroTots president and founder Becca Robison inspires young girls to reach for the stars.  Whether it’s creating Martian landscapes out of red clay or learning about chemical reactions with Alka-Seltzer rockets, Becca brings her love of science to girls in impoverished communities.

Becca lives in Layton, Utah, and started the AstroTots Space Camp for Little Dippers when she was 11.

“The goal of AstroTots is to inspire young girls, and help them believe they are capable of anything they can imagine.”

When she was 10, Becca attended her first “space-oriented” camp.  When she returned home and began sharing her dream with other girls, she was told that “being an astronaut was a boy’s job.”

“I was completely devastated,” she says, “when I talked to my mom about it, she told me I should change their opinions.”

Becca held an experimental space camp in her backyard for neighbourhood girls. It was an immediate success and Becca realized she had started something amazing.  A short time later, AstroTots took off.

A mobile day camp, AstroTots is non-profit and relies upon donations and grant money. (Becca herself is a volunteer.) The camp moves throughout the US and accepts 25 girls between the ages of four and 10. AstroTots has waiting lists of over 100 girls each session.

“The things people learn at a young age stick with them forever. We try to expose girls to the fun of science early, so these connections will stick with them throughout school and beyond.

“Even though AstroTots is science-based, we’re just as happy if a girl goes away wanting to be a ballerina.”

Her parents and four siblings help by training volunteers and manning science stations. Run by volunteers, Becca tries to make the camp as fun as possible while putting the spotlight on science.

Becca admits juggling her entrepreneurial and educational responsibilities is difficult.

“My family never lets me give up; they constantly remind me there are no limits.”

Despite all the challenges Becca persevered talking to teachers, parents, campers and CEOs in order to learn everything she needed to keep AstroTots running smoothly.

Unsurprisingly, Becca is pursuing a physics degree with an emphasis on Astrophysics. Her ultimate goal is to be Mission Specialist for NASA’s (almost) impossibly selective Astronaut program.

Her advice for other young entrepreneurs: “anyone can make a difference if they try, that’s one of life’s most important lessons.”

SuperJam: 100% pure fruit

Across the pond, this young entrepreneur is making a splash, even if it’s just a Jam.

At the tender age of 14, Fraser Doherty was taught to make jam using his grandmother’s secret recipe. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fraser began selling to his neighbours and friends. As demand increased, he decided to make it a business. Located in Edinburgh, Scotland, SuperJam expanded quickly. Fraser began renting a factory a few days every month just to keep up.

In 2007, Waitrose (a high end supermarket in the UK) picked up the product, making it available in over 184 stores – the first of three major UK retailers to carry SuperJam.

Made from 100% pure fruit, the sweetness comes from the natural fruit sugars and grape juice. Available in four flavours SuperJam is a healthy alternative to current market products.

Building up his business wasn’t enough; Fraser also wanted to give back to his community. Thanks to his grandmother, he spent part of his childhood visiting senior’s homes helping to deliver her homemade goodies. This led Fraser to organize tea parties.

The Tea Parties bring senior citizens together with young volunteers enjoying tea, company, and of course, jam. Now, over 150 are held throughout Scotland each year.

“Caring for elderly people was something I was always brought up with, so I decided it would be nice to continue this theme on a bigger scale,” he said.

SuperJam now produces over 500,000 jars a week, and reached over €1.2 million in sales last year. Currently, Fraser is looking to expand into Europe and America.

Notable Achievements

These young entrepreneurs have accomplished some amazing things and received many awards but here are the ones that stand out:

Jason was the youngest recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2007. The judges of Young Entrepreneurs of America were so impressed, they created a brand-new category to honor him.

Becca recently received the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. This award honors young leaders striving to make a difference by helping people and the planet.

Fraser received the Young Business Person of the Year award in recognition of his success and charity work at the Big Hearted Scotland awards this September. The award was created to honor him specifically.

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About Joni Evans
Growing up in the small town of Cochrane, Alberta sparked an irrepressible urge to the see the world. Joni Evans has travelled extensively through Europe and India. Next June she plans to stand on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, before heading off on safari. In the mean time she works as a freelance journalist, and has a degree in communications from the University of Calgary. Joni is an equal opportunity pet enthusiast, enjoying the company of dogs and cats equally. Bears, not so much. Victoria Revay is a recovering broadcast journalist currently living in Vancouver, BC. After a stint in New York City and Los Angeles mingling with the stars, she returned to her beloved West Coast playground to help start-up the world’s largest citizen journalism web site, Nowpublic.com. Since then, she has been an online lifestyles editor, hosted an entertainment music video show and just returned from travelling and blogging across Canada (and getting paid for it) for a project she designed called Canada is a Big Place. However random, mastering the art of baking pie is next on Victoria’s to-do list. She was born in Budapest, Hungary.

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