Let's face it: As much as we try to make everything equal for our children these days (yes, honey, everyone gets a trophy at the Little League championship!), there are some kids who just stand out.
Take this guy, for example: Real-life Doogie Howser Akrit Jaswal performed his first surgery at the ripe age of seven. And then there's Nick D'Aloisio, the 17-year-old British programmer who sold his app Summly to Yahoo for tens of millions of dollars this past March.
So what do these kids possess to make them so outstanding? Well, genius-level IQs, for starters. But not every entrepreneur wunderkind is a mini Einstein.
We talked to four teens who — with a combination of smarts, creativity and passion — are changing the world one good idea at a time. Better still? They told us how your kid can too.
The intrepid entrepreneur: Fraser Doherty
At the tender age of eight, Fraser Doherty set his sights on being an entrepreneur. "I started out selling cakes at school, and then sent the money that I made to Greenpeace," he says. "I even raised chickens once in my parents' suburban garden, and sold the eggs to neighbors!"
Then, when Doherty was 14, his grandmother taught him how to make jam using her secret recipe — one that substituted grape juice for sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Doherty, naturally, began selling his finished product to friends and church members, eventually making a thousand jars a week. Five years later he was the 19-year-old head of SuperJam, a million-dollar jam empire that stocks 130 supermarkets in the United Kingdom.
But it's not money that drives this entrepreneur. "I always saw starting a business as a way to make a positive impact on the world," he says. His role model? Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. "The fact that she gave all her money to charity says everything about her," says Doherty, now 24. "I'd like to run my business that way."
Doherty's advice to wunderkind wannabes: "Start small. You don't need to quit school, borrow money or jump in at the deep end. If you don't take crazy risks, you've got nothing to lose!"
The internet mogul: Juliette Brindak
Middle school can be tough, which is why Juliette Brindak wanted to create an online haven for tween girls to help get them through those tricky years. So, in 2005, Brindak launched Miss O and Friends, a girls-only online destination known for its games, articles, and social community. She was 14.
Today, the site has more than 4 million users, and Brindak, now 24, is a self-made millionaire. The key to her success? "We've really been able to understand our target audience because we're constantly asking for their input," she says. Not to mention that it's a website parents can get behind: "Our safe socialization is what makes us unique compared to other sites. Anything that a user types isn't automatically submitted. Instead, it goes into our admin, where human eyes approve every single piece of content to make sure that no identifiable information is in the posts, and that they are age- and topic-appropriate."
Brindak is now hard at work turning her website into a brand, with the hope of one day creating Miss O personal care products, clothes, accessories and stationery — all with the intention of building teen girls' self-esteem. "The opportunities are endless!" she says.
Brindak's advice to wunderkind wannabes: "Don't give up! If there is a will, there is a way. I am so happy that I didn't give up — even after people told me it wouldn't be successful. Not everyone is going to believe in you, but you have to find the people who do, and you will be successful."
The born leader: Adora Svitak
When Adora Svitak was three years old, she'd take walks with her mom and sister at a park in Washington state, where she'd climb atop boulders to deliver impassioned speeches to a fictitious crowd.
"I drew inspiration from the 2000 election cycle in those early days," says the 15-year-old motivational speaker and author of "Flying Fingers." Her passion to share her love of reading and writing led to her book deal at age seven. By 12 she was speaking at her first TED conference, explaining to the audience why the world needs "childish thinking" — bold ideas, creativity and optimism. Today, the well-known literary prodigy is organizing the TEDxRedmond youth conference for the fourth year in a row, and researching a nonfiction book about her generation.
So what makes her different from other kids? "I try not to think of myself in terms of what sets me apart," she says. "Progress needs solidarity, and that takes people realizing they have a lot in common — not superheroes or saviors." This explains why Svitak wants to do more with her life than just write and speak — her goal is to change the world. "By 25, I hope to have attained some elected political office or other policymaking position," she says.
Svitak's advice to wunderkind wannabes: "Accomplishing your dreams begins with grounding them in reality: Build foundations of experience — learn everything you can about what you're passionate about — so you can excel. And find supporters who will provide unconditional encouragement as well as honest criticism."
The nonprofit prodigy: Daniel Feuer
Ten years ago, when Daniel Feuer's grandmother was battling colon and breast cancer, he often accompanied her to chemotherapy treatments, where he met other patients, including children. "I wanted to do something to make them feel better," he says. So after consulting with his dad, an oncologist, he decided to bring them homemade smoothies at every visit. "I thought smoothies would be the greatest, healthiest and most effective method for bringing comfort to people suffering from cancer," says the now 20-year-old.
It wasn't long before Feuer decided to turn his idea into a nonprofit — and caught the attention of Planet Smoothie, which wanted to partner with him. In 2004, then 11-year-old Feuer launched Smoothie Kidz, which now has more than 80 volunteers helping 1,500 patients annually. Next up: This nonprofit genius plans to franchise Smoothie Kidz school clubs across the country.
Feuer's advice to wunderkind wannabes: "Follow what makes you curious, because through such inspiration comes the drive of success. And remember that there are always times of difficulty, but failures define successes and make them that much sweeter."
Bring out the wunderkind in your own child
Think Junior has what it takes to take the world by storm? We asked three experts to weigh in on how to encourage your kid's entrepreneurial spirit:
1. If they don't like something, encourage them to change it. Children are often frustrated by rules or confused by regulations, so encourage them to respectfully work toward an improvement. Supporting teens means encouraging their passion, believing in their ability to solve problems and taking one step back to be an interested spectator while they work! — Dr. Deborah Gilboa, mom to four boys who have launched a website intended to "fix the world"
2. Help them create a "bullseye goal." Ask your children what their HUG (Huge Ultimate Goal) is and write it in the bullseye of a three-ring target. Then ask what the next best goal would be (note it in the second ring), followed by the last accomplishment they'd still be proud of (jot it down in the outermost ring) The next step is to discuss what kind of actions would be required to accomplish their bull's-eye goal by the time specified. If you notice your children falling off target, help them readjust. Knowing that parents support their goals and believe in their abilities gives kids the desire to take risks and go for their dreams. — Tara Kennedy-Kline, radio host and author of Stop Raising Einstein: Discover the Unique Brilliance in Your Child and You!
3. Let them fail. Children who are successful aren't protected from failure, which is one of life's greatest learning opportunities. On top of that, failure makes success that much sweeter when it does finally come. — Leon Scott Baxter Lewandowski, author of A Labor With Love.
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