In Hawai‘i, getting profiled on the cover of Midweek is a dream for many. I didn’t really get that until we arrived there this week. so I’m especially thankful to Midweek business & entrepreneurial writer Christina O’Connor and photographer extraordinaire Nathalie Walker for making us look and sound so zesty.
I also want to thank Editor Don Chapman for allowing the kids to be in the main shot. I know it’s not Midweek’s custom to have a gaggle of people on the cover, but Lemonade Alley is all about the kids!
A shortened version:
“As a renowned investor, strategic illustrator and app developer, local entrepreneur Steve Sue has had a lot of fancy job titles. But for him, none of them can top his current title: Chief Lemon Head of the business education program Lemonade Alley…
…It’s through Lemonade Alley that he gets to lead children in creating lemonade stands as a way to teach them entrepreneurial skills, while also promoting the value of charitable giving. Each spring, students from K to 12 make their own lemonade, then sell their product in a contest held at Pearlridge Center. But these are no roadside lemonade stands — they’re full-fledged businesses, in which the kids have done everything from product development to marketing to finding investors. The young entrepreneurs then donate proceeds to nonprofit partners of their choice.
‘We teach the kids all the tools of entrepreneurship, but also teach them that they can make a living yet still have enough to share with the rest of the world,’ explains Sue, who founded Lemonade Alley.
Launched in 2011, Lemonade Alley is heading into its fifth year — and it’s looking to be bigger than ever. The timing, organizers feel, could not be better. Born out of the recession, Lemonade Alley instills kids with the skills to strike out on their own and create their own opportunities. Plus, Sue explains, kids today are gearing up for a different sort of job market — one where the job they take when they’re 22 isn’t the one that they’ll have for the next 30 years.
‘At the same time,’ Sue asserts, ‘there are a lot of technological tools that are allowing more people to be entrepreneurial out of their own homes. That is, in a sense, setting more people free to innovate.’
It’s all a part of a larger goal to promote small businesses and entrepreneurship.
Lemonade Alley is the flagship program of BizGym Foundation, which itself grew out of the BizGym software application Sue created to facilitate the development and fine-tuning of business plans.
‘Essentially, what (BizGym software) does is it helps you create your business concept into something that touches on all of the key themes of business,” Sue explains. “It is an entrepreneur startup growth kit.’
BizGym guides users through this process via a business-planner tool, a marketing sales pitch map and a financial modeler.
The foundation was launched as the nonprofit arm to fund Lemonade Alley — and now is comprised of a range of programs that support entrepreneurial education and small-business growth.
As a companion program to Lemonade Alley, there is Camp BizGym, a marketing and video production boot camp that Lemonade Alley winners have the opportunity to attend. Kids work with public-relations consultants to produce videos that promote either a local business or their own venture.
BizGym also produces StoryU Arts, led by BizGym program director Kimee Balmilero, which uses acting, improv and script writing as a way to help professionals with public speaking and marketing.
Each November, in honor of National Entrepreneurship Month, there’s BizPitch Camp — a workshop that teaches budding entrepreneurs how to tailor their pitch to target various audiences.
BizGym’s newest program, Brand Aid, is designed to ‘fix your business brand boo boos.’ Through an evaluation of a company’s overall image, Brand Aid helps executives understand how it all looks from a customer’s perspective. The program hosts pop up ‘triage’ evaluation sessions, the next of which will be held Jan. 27 at Bishop Square. Once a quarter, Brand Aid also will offer informational sessions, covering topics such as promotion, product development, design, employee training and customer service.
‘If we can turn a half-million-dollar-a-year business into a million-dollar business, we can create jobs and economic vitality,’ Sue explains.
By introducing students to entrepreneurial concepts at a young age, Lemonade Alley hopes to plant the seeds for the type of work ethic and business savvy that they’ll need as adults.
‘Understanding how the marketplace works at a young age absolutely contributes to an increase in understanding as an adult,’ explains BizGym Foundation’s executive director Lesley Harvey, who also is the founder and president of Grant Writing & Consulting. ‘Kids who learn those skills can take advantage of opportunities.’
In addition to the contest, Lemonade Alley features a series of workshops in the weeks leading up to the event. The first step in the series places the kids alongside chefs, to help them concoct their lemonade. Next, they learn how to brand their product. The final workshop teaches them how to pitch their ideas in a clear, concise manner.
Sherry Tani explains that her children, daughter Genesis, 10, and son Phoenix, 8, who participated in last year’s Lemonade Alley, liked ‘the fact that they were the ones who got to do everything … They loved the fact that it was their own idea of how to set up their booth, their own idea of how they wanted to make their lemonade — all of it was their own choice.’
For Valerie Tabura, the program was a way for her to teach daughter Juliana the value of hard work.
‘It is really important because they have to realize that in life you are going to have to work hard for things that you want,’ Valerie says.
Meanwhile, participant Sara Brekke says that her favorite part of Lemonade Alley was getting to work with her friends on a team.
‘I was proud to see her step into a leadership role and watch her gain confidence in herself and her abilities through this program,’ adds her mother Sandi.
Across the board, though, both parents and kids feel that raising money for local nonprofits was one of the most valuable parts of their Lemonade Alley experience.
It is that sentiment that’s at the crux of Lemonade Alley — and of BizGym Foundation, which operates with the motto “Profit to Share,” as a whole.
Prior to authoring the BizGym software, Sue had a varied career. With both a bachelor’s in art and a law degree, he carved out a niche as a consultant for a wide range of industries, from hospitality and retail to technology and entertainment.
Over the years, giving back became an important aspect of it all for Sue — and he started sharing his business savvy as an instructor at Iolani School and a mentor at Blue Startups.
‘I am in the second half of my life now, and I started realizing things, like giving and thinking about what I can leave for the planet,’ he says. ‘The fun of business is beyond making a buck. The idea of legacy is not enough for me. Legacy could just be like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant because he left a mark. But the more important thing is, did you make other people better, did you sacrifice some of yourself to help someone else?’
‘So many people think of business from this sinister, mean angle,” Sue continues, “and I have never really seen business that way. I have always seen it as the thing that feeds us and clothes us and provides shelter for us. I wanted to take that a step further and show people that you could combine philanthropy with business.’
‘In Lemonade Alley, (the kids) have their end goal of winning … but they also are really moved and excited to be able to (donate),’ Harvey adds.
Other than the proceeds the kids garner from their stands, many of the winning teams — which earn $1,000 — also decide to donate their prize money to their charities. Last year’s Lemonade Alley teams raised a total of more than $15,000 for local groups, including Hawaiian Humane Society, Wounded Warriors and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Along that vein, BizGym Foundation is looking toward launching a new program this year: Lemonade Alley Outreach Program, which aims to make the program more accessible to economically disadvantaged families.
‘Studies have shown that entrepreneurial skills are positively correlated to increases in employability,’ Harvey explains. ‘Looking at some of the communities we have around the state, that is huge. If more people are able to find employment, that means there is economic growth, that means there is reduction in poverty.'”