12-year-old girl wins business pitch competition

A Jefferson City tween showed off her entrepreneurial skills earlier this month, winning a youth business pitch competition. Mira Gandhi, the 12-year-old daughter of Rodd Hillard and Anji Gandhi, has been selling sno-cones in front of her home for two years. She attended the Build-a-Business Camp during Summers @ Mizzou last week, gathering business skills and taking home some new ideas.

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Twelve-year-old Mira Gandhi shows off the sign displaying her business’ new name and slogan. Gandhi recently won a youth business pitch, taking home a Kindle Fire, for the sno-cone business she’s been running for two years.

Steve Henness, MU Extension 4-H youth development specialist, said the program is designed to meet students where they are, helping them brainstorm and possibly implement a micro-business while still attending school.

“The beauty of it is, they can take on as much of that business as they want to. There were some very interesting ideas that came forth,” Henness noted.

The four-day camp brought together 15 teens from Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina. Campers met with local entrepreneurs and other business professionals to answer questions about insurance, marketing, loans, property and banking.

Heavy topics for teens ages 12-17, but Gandhi said “they made it really fun with a scavenger hunt.”

“They gained some skills and experience in financial literacy and creative marketing,” as well, Henning explained.

Campers were tasked with evaluating their skills, talents, and interests, and creating a business plan that needs little startup money. The competition runner-up looked into creating confidence classes, teaching others how to overcome the fear of public speaking. Another student hopes to open a pie baking business.

Although Gandhi already has her business up and running, she said the camp was very informative, helping her lay out a financial plan and see how much money she’s actually making.

“I ended up making a lot of profit,” she said.

The camp gave her the tools to look at costs down the road as well, as she hopes to buy a bigger sno-cone machine, and possibly even get a generator so her stand can become more mobile.

The camp helped Gandhi learn about branding her business, she said. The Thomas Jefferson student developed a name and slogan for her stand, Sweet Tooth Sno-Cones, “Cool off your summer.”

Gandhi can make 10 sno-cones in 15 minutes. She charges $1 a cone and usually walks away with at least $20 at the end of each shift. She sets up during the summer, either on weekends or when people are getting home from work. This summer she hopes to save up her cash in order to pay booth fees to work at festivals in the future.

“I think I really want to continue and expand, especially when I get older, I can do more with it,” the young entrepreneur said.

As an end to the business camp, students presented their business ideas to a panel of judges. Gandhi said she didn’t expect to win, as there were lots of good ideas.

“I had already known what things would cost,” she noted, something she said probably helped her pitch. “I knew the tiny details.”

Gandhi started the sno-cone business two years ago after seeing the idea in a store. When her mom purchased her several new flavors for the shaved ice, Gandhi said, “I know how I can pay her back.”

That’s when she set up shop curbside, and began charging for the summer treats. She has recruited her older sister and some friends in the past, and would encourage other young people to pursue their business dreams.

At the summer camp, “they had us say all of our interests and they talked to us about what business ideas you could start from that,” she noted.

Her advice: “Aside from attending the business camp, I would say you don’t need a lot of startup money. If it’s a good idea, people will want to help you. It might be hard in the beginning, but it gets easier.”

Although her focus for now is sno-cones, Gandhi said she has also thought about hiring herself out to play her violin for special occasions and events. “That would be better down the road, since right now I’m only 12.”

Henness said the business camp is really a reflection of what is happening in the business world.

“There are record highs of unemployment among youth, so entrepreneurship is getting a second look, if not a first look. If they’re having trouble finding employment, they can create their own job,” Henness said.

He said the program is really designed to follow that trend.

“Many entrepreneurs identify their first business venture back at an early age. Entrepreneurs are starting young, it is not too early to be hunting/fishing for talent at the age these guys are now,” Henness said.

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