Kids Business Expo teaches students how to run a business


Jessyca Cook

SWEET BUSINESS. Keiley White, second from left, sells sweet treats to her customers at the Kids Business Expo. The event, organized by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, was designed to teach middle school students how to be entrepreneurs.

Kingsport customers would probably never expect that middle school students could come up with and run their own business. That’s exactly what happened in February at the Kids Business Expo.

Lora Barnett was the organizer of this event. She’s part of Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, where she works as the Director of Government Relations and Workforce Development.

“A kids’ business expo is like a science fair for entrepreneurs,” Barnett said. “We want to promote students having that entrepreneurial spirit. So if they’ve ever thought about creating a product or service that they would like to sell to their friends, family or community, this is the expo for them.”

The Kids Business Expo asks students to come up with an original idea of a product or service to sell. Only middle school students were allowed to participate.

“Middle school students are very creative, let’s give them credit for it,” Barnett said. “We want to expose them to the possibility of owning their own business. When we did this the first time, we did it for middle and high school students both, but we found more middle school students were actually interested in this. I will tell you, their creative genius came out.”

Shelby Demutvo was one of several student entrepreneurs who participated in the expo. Demutvo made it her business to sell meringues and candles.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “People sell things they enjoy making. I wanted to participate in the expo for the experience.”

Barnett hopes that students learn that they can own their own business one day, if that’s what they choose to do.

“I think some people, when you’re looking at career opportunities and career pathways, only see the traditional pathways,” she said. “We want to open up the career pathway opportunity that there are other things that you can do if you’re creative. If you love to bake and want to own your own bakery.”

The Kids Business Expo gives students insight into how you make something, how to price it, how to sell it and what all is involved in that.

In the past, students’ business ideas have been diverse.

“We had everything from different baked goods,” Barnett said. “We had different jewelry concepts. We had people making stationery. We had one gentleman that maybe had some fishing lures because he loved to fish, sell that.”

This year’s entries also featured a lot of different options.

“We have one student that actually designs their own T shirts and with the shirt, you get 10 magic markers so that you can actually color the picture on the front of the t-shirt, and you can wash it, it washes away, and you can color it again,” Barnett said. “It’s a great thing for kids to do. I thought that was very ingenious.”

Keiley White provided one of the many food options at the expo.

“I like baking and I wanted to share it,” she said. “Ever since I was little I’ve loved to bake.”

Her motto for the expo was “sweetness and fun for everyone.”

Sevier students Dixon Armstrong, Andrew Stacy and Michael Stacy also participated in the expo. They worked together to create a 3D printing business.

“We always wanted to start a business with friends,” Armstrong said. “There’s a lot of people who make action figures online and I got interested.”

There are many ingredients for a healthy business. First of all, it takes passion.

“If you don’t love what you’re creating or doing, then maybe you’re not going to be able to be as successful because you’re not as passionate about it,” Barnett said. “If it’s something that you’re completely passionate about, something that you really want to do, I think that that goes a long way to be successful.”

Michael Stacy agreed.

“We had  to communicate even if we were separated,” he said. “It takes good customers, participation, and teamwork [to run a business].’

On the other hand, entrepreneurs need to learn the fundamentals of running a business.

“You need to learn about cost, you need to learn about how much tax your production costs, how much it’s going to be to sell your product so that you can make a profit, because that’s the whole point of running successful businesses,” Barnett said.

Barnett has high hopes for the future of the Kids Business Expo.

“My hope is that number one, they enjoy what they do,” she said. “I hope that they learn from this, that it was a fun thing for them to do. But at the same time, it was something that they thought, you know, ‘maybe that’s something I can do and be successful with in the future’. We really want to just create that spark within them that entrepreneurship can be a great thing for them.”

White believes the Kids Business Expo is a big success for Kingsport.

“There are a lot of creative people here,” she said.