Catriona Campbell

Sep 16, 2021

4 min read

The Doogie Howsers of Entrepreneurship

From the new (and saner) Willy Wonka to Barbie’s answer to Stella McCartney & Vera Wang, this week I talk child entrepreneurship

ast your mind back to 10-year-old you. What’s that little rascal up to outside of school hours? Depending on how many winters you’ve seen since then, I imagine childhood-you was either larking around with buddies, building wonky things out of Lego and even wonkier dens in the woods, or already under the heady spell of our earliest internet-connected devices.

Whatever your answer, it likely isn’t planning or running a business. Not unless you were one of the first in an increasingly widespread cohort of mini entrepreneurs with grand aspirations to be the next Ben Francis, EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2020.

I wasn’t one of this crowd, but I did at a relatively young age start a successful business that EY eventually acquired in 2015. Now an international design consultancy called EY Seren, the company helps organisations transform their business models and create more value for the people they serve by putting those people first.

I mention this not just to explain why I love spotting entrepreneurial spirit in kids of all ages, but also to introduce a resourceful young lady I recently had the pleasure of catching up with, Esmie Hay. Founder of the eponymously named Esmie’s Sugar Boost, an online candy store for those in desperate need of sweet treats (who isn’t?), this Scottish school girl and EY Seren have something major in common: a desire to put the customer first.

When I asked Esmie about the development of her idea, which grew from a mid-pandemic lightbulb moment when deciding how best to use the cavernous wardrobe in her new bedroom, something she said struck me:

“I had to think about what other people like, not just what I like.”

This from a child when some established companies haven’t even realised that giving people what they want and need — not what they think people want and need — is the way to go. Amazing!

Esmie loves building stuff — clearly with a little more finesse than kids constructing those wonky dens and Lego structures I mentioned earlier. For this reason, she enjoyed making her mouthwatering website and gathering all the supplies she’d need for the shop to run smoother than Willy Wonka’s chocolate river.

Esmie founded her online candy store to use up all the space in her new bedroom

Of course, things haven’t always run smoothly, but Esmie is also a born problem-solver. When she accidentally ordered a batch of sweetie bags that were too small, these were swiftly filled with free samples and distributed with every order along with the message, ‘pass the sweetness on.’ I admire this as much as Esmie’s mum Courtnay, Director of Bauer Academy, who argues:

“With children, nothing is really a mistake.”

The mix-up not only exemplifies Esmie’s entrepreneurial instinct, but also her altruistic nature. On top of giving away freebies to make the most of a mistake, the youngster donates 55% of her profits to children’s charities. That, as Esmie herself says on the website, is sweet!

Speaking of Willy Wonka, whose mentorship approach was as unorthodox as a Wasabi KitKat or pickle-flavoured candy canes (both real things, by the way), it’s important to remember the role parents can and should play in child-run enterprises. Courtnay and her husband played no major part in setting up the business beyond opening a bank account and encouraging Esmie at every opportunity.

But while Courtnay views her daughter as a “one-girl band,” she wants to ensure online safety, and so processes orders and monitors the store’s Instagram account. Very sensible!

Not all kids can bring an idea like this to life by themselves. That’s where us mums and dads — and our adult connections — come in handier than a handbag. I witnessed this recently on LinkedIn, where a contact had posted about her daughter’s business idea: selling luxury doll clothes.

Grace Imrie wants top fashion houses to produce the garments, ensuring levels of quality and durability we just don’t see in doll apparel today. A brilliant concept that would certainly fill a gap in the market, and I’m sure Barbie herself would happily ditch the cheap polyester for more sumptuous plisse. The idea is still in its infancy, with Grace having recently spent her pocket money on fancy notepaper to reach out to creative directors at the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is all incredibly impressive. If you know anyone who could help Grace get her idea out of pyjamas and into clothes, please get in touch. Equally, if you have any contacts who could give Esmie’s Sugar Boost a boost of its own (Esmie wants to branch out into merch), then please reach out.

Until next week’s blog my friends, stay sweet!