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The Young and the Best List

Without a doubt, inspiring is one of the most overused words in any vocabulary. We say we are inspired by everything from beautiful sunsets to a disabled person overcoming challenges to achieve success. Perhaps we feel inspired because it allows us to feel hope. We feel more confident in the world around us, whether it’s our tiny sphere of influence or the sprawling, unruly universe of humanity.

I bring this up because I, too, tend to indiscriminately use the word inspiring. And so, I am a bit sheepish as I pen this blog because there really is no other word for it.

A few days ago I attended the Young Entrepreneurs Summit. You might assume I saw college students engrossed in technology endeavors. Nope, not even close. Nary an app in sight. What I saw was a roomful of young girls – some as young as 7, most between 9 and 11, and one “oldster” at 16. They had just concluded a series of workshops given by a 13-year-old. No, that’s not a typo. Really, she’s 13. The subtitle of the event: “They’re not just kids, they’re future leaders!” And boy, was this the truth.

You may have heard of Anika Ortiz of Anika’s Pink Closet fame. She is an entrepreneur herself, as well as a motivational speaker. She continues to pile up awards. I first met Anika when she was 11 and winning the Youth Award at National Philanthropy Day. Her acceptance speech had the crowd of 900+ standing, clapping and cheering. I’ve followed her exploits ever since and now, at the ripe old age of 13, she is inspiring – yes, there’s that word again – other young girls to reach for the stars.

The Young Entrepreneurs Summit was the culmination of Anika’s workshops. The setting was a donated karate studio in Santa Ana with tables lining the perimeter. Twenty girls stood behind their tables, selling wares to shoppers eager to support earnest endeavors. The girls figured out what their “store” would sell, and then Anika taught them about pricing, branding and marketing.

Some baked, some sewed, some bought wholesale and resold retail. They had designed their own logos and now flashed snazzy business cards. They sold everything from handmade decorative pillows (Lilly’s Pillow Palace) to custom skateboard gear (Pretty Gnarly) to homemade cupcakes and cake pops (Valerie’s Flour Power). Most items cost between $1 and $10.

Moms, brothers and sisters were on hand to help but honestly, most needed no help at all. They pointed shoppers to websites where a more extensive list of items could be found. They explained how they came up with their idea for their store and proudly disclosed who would get a percentage of their profits.

Yes, that’s the other inspiring part. These young girls learned they could become entrepreneurs and also about giving back. Taking a cue from Anika, certainly a philanthropist extraordinaire, each selected a nonprofit to receive 10 percent of their sales. The list of nonprofits reads like a who’s who of local community groups, such as Child Abuse Prevention Center, Laura’s House, The Wooden Floor, Pretend City Children’s Museum and Mariposa Women & Family Center.

I spent about an hour visiting each table and chatting with the girls, soaking up – you guessed it –inspiration, and hope for the future. I have no doubt some of these girls will be leading the charge in the years ahead.

Oh, and I did spend $15 and left happily with two beautiful pillows from nine-year-old Lilly.

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