ADVERTISEMENT

The idea came to Dana Whitelaw at a craft fair.

The Kenmore East High School senior came across a vendor selling hair clips last December. She bought a few, and that inspired her to start making some clips of her own.

"The first time I made only 12," Dana says, "and I sold seven the first day."

It was a sign of what was to come for Dana's business, which has experienced rapid growth at Kenmore East. Her customer base has grown much larger than she had anticipated.

"I made and sold close to 600 clips in four months," she says. "People wanted them, so I just kept on making them."

Dana starts with a plain metal alligator clip. She uses hot glue to attach colored ribbons, and sometimes embellishes them with bows or buttons.

Her clips can be bought with just plain ribbon, but themes are often hits. A line featuring Disney princess buttons was popular last year, and her recent additions have been inspired by Lady Gaga and Snooki of MTV's "Jersey Shore."

So far, Dana has made about $600, passing her original goal of $400. She has donated all of her profits to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that helps to grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

Not only does she donate money to the foundation, which is the largest wish-fulfilling organization in the country, but she is part of its Western New York student leadership council.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dana is not the only young adult thinking big. In 2002, the bureau registered 446,000 businesses owned by people under the age of 25.

Schools are recognizing this growing entrepreneurial trend. The University at Buffalo offers a 19-week course that focuses on responsible entrepreneurship and showcases the highlights and pitfalls that come with owning a business.

There are even Web sites dedicated to the cause, like Epic Launch, which describes itself as "a leading blog for young entrepreneurs seeking to learn about entrepreneurship and online business." It lists a few of the pros and cons of being a teenage business owner.

While Dana did develop the idea herself, she says she has help keeping up with the orders.

"One time my dad and I stayed up until three in the morning looking online for the ribbon I needed," she says. "Don't disregard your parents' help."

And her friends pitch in with production as well. "They helped me make clips and gave me new combinations of colors and patterns," she says.

Dana doesn't plan on stopping. Following one of the points that is stressed heavily in how-to guides and entrepreneurship articles, she has started thinking ahead.

"I'm currently working on bracelets and headbands to expand my product line," she says, "but those may be much more expensive than the one dollar that was previously being charged."

All in all, this has been an eye-opening experience for Dana.

"I never thought I'd be as successful as I am today," she says.

And her involvement with Make-A-Wish has helped her select her future career field. Dana says she has known for a while she wants to be a pediatric oncologist, and working with the organization has helped her make that decision.

"I thought this would be a good look on the humanitarian side, not just the clinical one," she says. "The kids are an inspiration, and they are so much stronger and wiser than I ever could imagine myself being."

Admittedly, starting a business while juggling school and a social life may seem a little daunting. There are certainly risks involved, but Dana encourages other students to try it anyway.

"If you're passionate about something, try it out," she says. "It sounds cliche, but it's true."

***

Lindsay Thomas is a junior at Kenmore East High School.