It might seem harsh, but JD Ribali wants kids to know failure is always an option.
In fact, failure is cause for celebration through Mr. Ribali’s Biz Kidz Expo and Biz Kidz Market programs, each designed for the youngest entrepreneurs in Ave Maria, Naples and other Southwest Florida communities.
“Our goal is to support kids and spark young entrepreneurs to sell their products and services,” says Mr. Ribali. “We celebrate failures and talk about why products don’t do well, ways to make it work, what works, how to make something better and what customers want.”
Biz Kidz programs, offered under the newly minted nonprofit auspices of Mr. Ribali’s Young Entrepreneurs and Rising Stars, or YEARS, provide free resources — thanks to partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits and other organizations — to empower young innovators and entrepreneurs and teach them the fundamentals of business. Participating kids can peddle their wares with market booths at Ave Maria events, a pitch day at Florida Gulf Coast University and the second annual expo this April at Coastland Center in Naples.
The programs are easily adaptable to communities across the U.S with products and services far more sophisticated than lemonade stands or grass mowing. To date, local children-run businesses cover the gamut from baked goods, braided dog leashes and custom jewelry to teepee birthday and slumber parties (an all-night party planner is included) and even refurbished robotic toys.
“Children also learn about the up-front expenses of operating a business before making the first sale, from raw materials and signs to the mobile Cash App payment service for customers not carrying cash as well as factoring the time spent on making the product or planning the service,” Mr. Ribali explains.
The programs are targeted to ages 7 to 17, some who apparently didn’t get the memo about failure.
One young budding Ave Maria entrepreneur, Izzy Gallegos, frequently sells out of his Big Boy’s peanut butter cookies within two hours of setting up shop.
“He such a good pitchman and really knows how to sell his business,” Mr. Ribali says.
Thirteen-year-old Ella Lyman of Naples sold all but three of the hand-crafted dog leashes she brought to the inaugural Taste of Ave event and accepted an extra $200 in custom orders. Many of her buyers, she said, aren’t even dog owners.
Ella got the idea for her adjustable crossbody leashes while visiting Baker Park in Naples with her grandmother, brother and Chihuahua-corgi mix, Chicky. Her grandmother would check in by text to find out where she was and what she was doing. Ella, a two-thumb texter like most teens, realized it was difficult to respond while juggling a leash.
“I’m really creative and make the most random things,” she says. “The leash is crossbody and hands-free. I thought it would be really helpful because a lot of people take business calls when they’re walking their dog. It just clicked in my head.”
Chicky is the muse and mascot of For Dogs Sakes, which specializes in cotton rope leashes that take Ella 60 to 90 minutes to braid and retail from $25 to $35.
Ella’s father knows Mr. Ribali through the Ave Maria Business Networking group, which Mr. Ribali started shortly after moving to Ave Maria in 2016. Taking note of all the locally owned small businesses in his new hometown — including dozens of residents working from their homes — the group was created to give business owners the chance to connect and learn from each other.
The Biz Kidz programs were a natural spin off of Mr. Ribali’s own entrepreneurial spirit, which also includes the umbrella Top Notch Connections and its subsidiaries: Top Notch Home Pros, Top Notch University, Top Notch Events and Top Notch Living.
The children-centric offshoots include the second annual Biz Kidz Expo coming up Saturday, April 15, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Coastland Center, and its precursor, the March 28 Biz Kidz Pitch Day at FGCU. The latter, says Mr. Ribali, helps kids who aren’t natural born salespeople or extroverts coax out their sales skills, develop their entrepreneurial skills, generate ideas and create business, marketing and packaging plans and sales pitches through interactive questions and answers.
“Local businessmen and women coach kids through the process, ask questions and help them develop their pitch,” Mr. Ribali explains, adding it’s like “a nice ‘Shark Tank.’ Kids work with instructors in FGCU’s entrepreneurial program explaining what they’re offering and why it’s different.”
Pitch day prepares participants for expo judges and the opportunity to win $5,000 in prize money. So do special events like the December inventors fair at Miromar Outlets, which introduced shoppers to the robotic toys created by an industrious 14-year-old.
“He went to Goodwill and bought broken remote-controlled toys and anything with a circuit board,” Mr. Ribali recalls. “He’s one of those science-minded kids who knows his product but needed help developing his pitching and selling skills. He did great! One customer bought a robotic toy as a friend for a pet. It runs up and down and the pet chases it.”
During the expo, which attracted 50 participants in its inaugural year and requires a $35 registration fee, judges from sponsoring businesses interact with young entrepreneurs, learning about their marketing, how they’re spending their dollars and their profit margins. This year, they’ll meet Ella Lyman, who credits both parents for her innate business sense.
“I’m going to be an entrepreneur, I think,” says Ella, who previously made $800 selling hand-made pillows to her mom’s coworkers. “I was nervous in the car on the way to Taste of Ave with my leashes. But I did great. I didn’t realize how much I knew!”
Entrepreneurialism is likely in Ella’s future, although she hopes to tie it into her love of horses, perhaps as an equine veterinarian or a show jumper. She’s secretly braided a lead for her future horse, and she’s been known to check out the competition — realizing her products are often better made and better priced than those sold at local pet boutiques.
The sentiment was echoed by Ella’s customers who Mr. Ribali spoke to for feedback. “They told me she really knows how to pitch her product,” he says.
Mr. Ribali discovered his own entrepreneurial side at 7, selling cucumbers from his mother’s garden door to door. “I understand just how important it is to instill a drive to succeed in our children when they are a young age,” he says. “Biz Kidz programs give young people who have ideas and dreams a chance to turn them idea into reality and make it all become a success.”