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Where are they now? Catching up with the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Winners

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The last year has been difficult, but despite the obstacles, many young business owners have demonstrated their true entrepreneurial prowess through adaptability, perseverance, and critical thinking.  The three winners from the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition are three such business owners who have emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever.  They all have shown increased business acumen, motivation, and appreciation for the Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition experience.

Young Americans Center for Financial Education is so pleased to introduce Julia Doolittle, the 9-year-old owner of Olaf’s Dog Cookies  and winner of the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars business competition in the 6-11 age category.

It has only been 8 months since Julia started her dog business, as a solution to calm and entice her untrained dog during their walks with her older sister. The cookies come in two dog-approved flavors: pumpkin peanut butter and beef.

In addition to her business sense, Julia’s passion impressed the judges. “Some people start a business because it’s a good profit maker, but I can tell you started your business because you love dogs and that is super important,” commented one judge.

Working with her mentor Jena Hausmann, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado , Julia’s goal is to improve her marketing tactics and grow her business this year. Eventually, Julia hopes that Olaf’s Dog Cookies are available in every store for every dog lover.Since winning the 6-11 age category last year, Julia Doolittle, owner of Olaf’s Dog Cookies, has been able to expand her direct-to-consumer customer base, increase her retail sales channels, and even expand outside of Colorado. Olaf’s Dog Cookies offers homemade dog treats in a variety of flavors and sizes.  Julia expectantly awaits the return of in-person marketplaces so that she can reconnect with her customers face to face.  Julia’s advice to business owners who might be nervous about applying is “Just try your best, and even if you don’t win, you’ll know what to do differently next year.”  Her favorite part of the competition was meeting with her mentor, Jena Hausman, CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado.  Julia also loved the chance to connect with other young entrepreneurs and learn about their businesses.

Maile McManis, the winner in the 12-15 age category, has beenCongratulations are in order for 13-year-old Maile McManis, the owner of Sewing with Smiles LLC  and winner of the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars business competition in the 12-15 age category.

Sewing with Smiles began in 2018 when Maile discovered her mother’s old sewing machine, gifted by her grandmother. Since Maile’s mom had never picked up sewing, the machine sat unused until Maile mobilized both the machine and her newfound business inspiration.

In the two years since her discovery, Maile’s sewing skills have grown exponentially, along with her burgeoning business. Maile now has two product lines: fashion, including cosmetic bags and purses, and an eco-friendly line, including reusable produce bags. Judges loved Maile’s dedication to improving her business, and especially her timely response to COVID-19 by sewing and donating masks for essential workers.

Over the next year, Maile plans to explore new product offerings and sales opportunities with the help of her mentors, Bob and Judi Newman. Maile has, “learned so much from them already!” equally busy during the last year.  Her business, Sewing with Smiles, sells a variety of hand-sewn cosmetic bags, produce bags, and gift bags.  Over the last year, Maile has expanded her line of products to include season-specific products for both spring and holiday seasons.  About her experience as a winner, Maile said, “Being recognized for my hard work was really nice, as was getting mentors to help talk through my business ideas.”  Maile adds that her mentors, Bob and Judi Newman, Denver business and philanthropy leaders, have counseled her to really focus on quality and not rush through her projects. She also notes that the prize money has allowed her to invest in new equipment that has improved her product quality.   Maile’s advice to potential applicants is, “…to not overthink it, and to go for it.  I didn’t win the competition the first year I applied but I still learned a lot and was inspired to work harder for the future.   Anytime you get to focus on your business and tell your story, it is a positive experience.”

Young Americans Center for Financial Education recognizes and congratulates Leonard Shearer for his business accomplishments!  Leonard is the 18-year-old owner of  Cardbound LLC , the 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars winner in the 16-21 age category.

After discovering a love for web-based sales with his dad, Leonard realized he wanted to find something new and unique he could sell. Drawing on his years playing Pokemon DS and his resulting expertise in this industry, Leonard began selling Pokemon TCG cards that he acquired from a wholesale distributor and had authenticated.

Since its inception, Cardbound has evolved through trial and error to develop into several different markets and establish itself as the sole purveyor of many of the products it sells. With impressive sales, product sourcing and distribution strategies, judges commended Leonard’s business savvy and grasp of financials.

As Leonard looks to grow his business throughout the next year, mentor Raju Patel, Denver Market Leader at Bank of America , will be a huge asset. Leonard hopes that Patel can help him improve his accounting system and use data to grow his business in a strategic way.Our 16-21 category winner, Leonard Shearer, took full advantage of the fact that his business was already fully online.  His business, Cardbound, LLC sells rare Pokemon cards and other hobby goods. Since his win in October, Leonard has been able to, incredibly, increase his sales between 200%-300% compared to the same period the prior year!  He’s also been strategizing with his mentor, Raju Patel of Bank of America, on ways to expand his business.  Leonard says of the experience, “The biggest benefit has been my mentorship with Raju. He has helped me systematically think through the issues my business is facing and how to respond to them.”  Leonard also encourages all young business owners to apply to the competition. “If you’re not sure whether to apply, I recommend just going for it. The worst-case scenario is you receive helpful feedback on how to improve, and the best case is winning and being paired with a mentor.”  Looking toward the future, Leonard is particularly excited about a planned trip to Japan, when he hopes to visit several card shops and purchase some very rare cards for his business customers.

It’s clear that all of our 2020 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars winners have made the most of the last year to grow and expand their businesses.  At Young Americans Center for Financial Education, we can’t wait to meet the talented applicants of 2021, and witness all the incredible business growth they have in store for them!

If you or someone you know is a young business owner between the ages of 6-21, we encourage them to apply to the Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars Business Competition!  More information on the application process can be found here.  All applicants receive customized business feedback from our distinguished panel of judges.  Two finalists and one winner are awarded for each age category, with a total of $10,000 awarded in prize money and the chance to be paired with a leading business mentor.  Apply Now!

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