More than 100 children descended on the Cleveland Park business district on a recent Saturday morning, eagerly awaiting buyers for the products they’d spent months devising, making and marketing.
Customers who strolled through the white tents at the Acton Children’s Business Fair in the 3400 block of Connecticut Avenue NW could choose goods from among 80 businesses operated by young entrepreneurs aged 6 to 14. Wares included cake pops, organic homewares, finger-knitted accessories and more. The vendors came prepared with pithy names and sharp slogans printed on banners, business cards and T-shirts.
Parents stood back — albeit anxiously — to watch their children reel in shoppers with enthusiastic sales pitches, which ranged in subtlety from complimentary mints to outright calls of: “Do you wanna buy it?” (Admittedly, it’s hard to say no to that.)
At the May 20 event, Juliet Franklin, Gabrielle Bennett and Hadley Carr, all 12, won the Most Original Business Idea for their “Nook in a Book” concept. The trio carved indents into decorated books so “kids can hide iPhones or candy from their parents,” they said.
Meanwhile, Mann Elementary School students Avajane Lei and Zoe Antczak-Chung, 10, and Will Schwendinger, 11, won a Highest Growth Potential award for their “Little Green Home” brand. Their business makes homewares, bath salts and play dough with natural, safe ingredients, Lei said. Little Green Home has a Facebook page with behind-the-scenes pictures and videos.
“I honestly didn’t see this coming,” Zoe’s father Jonathan Chung said. “I just saw her putting things in these bottles. It’s pretty amazing.”
One of the other vendors, 8-year-old Brooklyn Montgomery, is the founder and “chief taster” of Brooklyn’s Treats, which sold homemade caramel apples and rice crispies with vegan options. Montgomery, who won the “Best Business” award in 2016, arrived this year with a new logo, new business cards and an Instagram account to market her brand.
“Hey Georgetown Cupcake and Baked and Wired,” Montgomery wrote in a post May 20. “Hot off the press… Caramel apples are the new cupcake.”
Lindon and John Thomas, co-founders of “Snuzzle,” offered an array of finger-knitted designs: snakes, scarves, necklaces and bracelets. According to Lindon, the process consumed two months, including many afternoons and weekends. “Once we got home, we worked on the things that needed to be worked on,” Lindon said.
Owen Dalgard, 8, funneled his passion for Legos into his business called “Good Clean Fun.” He stuck Legos to hair clips, Father’s Day cards and picture frames.
Owen’s father Clifton said that last year the business accrued about $300 in profits. “The fair is a great opportunity to develop interpersonal skills, which are so important,” Clifton Dalgard said.
In total, the fair had 114 youth participants. When it began in 2016, it was neatly contained in the parking lot near the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Macomb Street. This year, though, stalls spilled onto the sidewalk and crept north toward Ordway Street.
When a bell sounded at 1 p.m. to signal the fair’s conclusion, head organizer David Kirby announced that 2,101 shoppers had attended the event — the most of any children’s entrepreneurial fair nationwide. “It was beyond our wildest expectations,” Kirby said. “It is so much work, but the payoff is so great.”
He added that he will “absolutely” organize the fair again next year — although admitted he “may need more volunteers.”
Kirby — a vice president and senior fellow at the Cato Institute conservative think tank — also co-founded the D.C. branch of the Acton Academy, the network of alternative schools that sponsored the event. Kirby is currently trawling for sites to open an Acton Academy in Northwest D.C that would join 25 others around the world, he said. Previous plans a few years ago to launch a small Acton school within St. Sophia’s Cathedral, 2815 36th St. NW, never materialized.
According to Kirby, the Acton Academy’s Socratic philosophy encourages students to realize their passion, to “apply information to actually do something out there, outside of the classroom” and to assume an entrepreneurial mindset. “Most schools are stuck in the model from 100 years ago, with a teacher in front of a classroom telling kids information that they could easily Google,” he said.