More than a Budding Entrepreneur
“Maya’s Ideas” has been making over 50,000 dollars in profits every year, and 10 to 20% of what Maya earns go to charitable organizations. Since learning how to draw, Maya has not hesitated to make her great ideas come to life. She was only three years old when she began making flip-books; all types of art fascinated her to bits. When she realized how cartoons are created by animators, she realized it was what she wanted to do long-term.
She contented herself, however, with growing her artisan business. Seeing a kid speak before adults can make us all wonder what we were thinking when we were her age; if kids could only see the world through Maya’s eyes, more eco-friendly initiatives could have made their impact by now, rather than allowing more plastic and non-biodegradable materials to join the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
When she’s not designing her headbands, T-shirts and accessories, Maya enjoys writing books. She hates being idle; in her TED Talk, she spoke fervently about ideas:
"All of my animations start with ideas, but what are ideas? Ideas can spark a movement. Ideas are opportunities and innovation. Ideas truly are what make the world go round. If it wasn't for ideas, we wouldn't be where we are now with technology, medicine, art, culture, and how we even live our lives. At eight years old, I took my ideas and started my own business called Maya's Ideas, and my nonprofit, Maya's Ideas for the Planet. (Laughter)And I make eco-friendly clothing and accessories. I'm 13 now, and although I started my business in 2008, my artistic journey started way before then. I was greatly influenced by art, and I wanted to incorporate it in everything I did, even my business. I would find different fabrics around the house, and say, "This could be a scarf or a hat," and I had all these ideas for designs. I noticed when I wore my creations, people would stop me and say, "Wow, that's really cute. Where can I get one?" And I thought, I can start my own business." (SOURCE: TED Talks)
A Child with a Growing Net Worth
Maya Shea Penn is the only child of John and Deidre Penn of Atlanta, Georgia, and was born on February 10th, 2000. Maya was a precocious child. From the moment she learned how to use a crayon at the age of three, she loved to draw. She started with flip-books; the basic storyboard for animation. She did all of this before starting school.
Her parents decided to home-school their daughter, with her mother serving as her teacher. The couple wanted Maya to develop her talents, and we certainly can’t argue with the results. Deidre mentioned in an interview that they wanted to train Maya to be independent – although home-schooled, Maya was reared to make her own decisions at a very young age. Her father, John, is also a major inspiration to her, and he allowed her to discover computers and technology at a young age. When Maya was only four years old, he showed her how to disassemble a computer and put all the parts back in correctly. She was thrilled! Even better, she became interested in how to use computers, both hardware and software.
Because she loved to draw flip-books, she developed a penchant for animation. From the first time she witnessed how drawings are brought to life by artists, she vowed to, one day, become an animator. She also began teaching herself how to use programs like Java, Python and HTML, which came in handy when she started her business.
Being such a smart kid, Maya could not sit still; her mind was too full of ideas. Once, she saw a discarded cloth lying in the living room, and liked its zebra pattern. She thought it would make a fashionable headband, and so she used a sewing machine – her mom taught her how to sew – to embellish the headband with a ribbon.
It soon became a hobby. She’d find use in everything she saw around the house. She’d also go outside wearing her creations and receive compliments from others. People would ask her where she bought her headband or scarf, and they would be in awe when she confessed to making them herself. When the compliments became more frequent, people also began asking if she had more for them to buy.
From those suggestions came “Maya’s Ideas,” the company she founded at only eight years old. She also created her own website and linked it with Etsy. Soon, she was getting customers from all over the world. What makes her products unique is their faithfulness to her mission; they are eco-friendly, and, by becoming an environmentally-conscious entrepreneur, she is hoping to make a difference.
This did not come as an after-thought – her environmental awakening preceded her entrepreneurial foray. She shares:
“I learned a lot about things like solar energy from my dad. When he was a kid he won awards from NASA and the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard for his science fair projects on solar energy. And, while creating my products I started doing my own research and found out how the chemical dyes in clothing can be harmful to people and the planet. I thought, how can helping the environment tie into my business? I immediately knew it had to be eco-friendly.” (SOURCE: Entrepreneur)
Upon discovering that even reputable brands are guilty of using harmful dyes in their products, Maya made it her mission to make only environmentally-friendly products:
“I use natural fruit and vegetable dyes and herbal teas to dye scarves and T-shirts, I use materials like organic burlap, 100% organic cotton, hemp, tencel, art silk (not really silk, but a blend of rayon and cotton), and fleece, as well as recycled and vintage materials in creating my clothing and accessories.” (SOURCE: Inhabitots)
She designs her own work, which is all made-to-order. Besides making eco-friendly products, Maya is also adamant about giving back: she sets aside 10 to 20% of her income to give to charitable organizations.
To top it off, she founded her own non-profit, which she named “Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet.” She also conceptualized a cool league of superheroes called “The Pollinators.” When her computer crashed after it picked up a virus, she wittingly thought of “Malicious Dishes:”
"There was a virus on my computer, and I was trying to get rid of it, and all of a sudden, I just thought, what if viruses have their own little world inside the computer? Maybe a restaurant where they meet up and do virusy things?" (SOURCE: TED Talks)
There’s no doubt that this girl is going to go far. Before she even became a teenager, she had already been sought by media biggies such as TED, CNN, Forbes, Ebony, Huffington Post and CNN, among many others. If you feel that Maya is missing out on the experience of being a kid, hear her out first:
"The benefits of starting young are that you learn and experience things at an early age that will help you in the future, including how to manage your money. Young entrepreneurs also have less “creativity inhibitors,” which leaves you open-minded to take more risks that can make your business flourish." (SOURCE: Doers)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- The Atlanta Community Food Bank
- The Ian Somerhalder Foundation
- Hosea Feed the Hungry
- Maya's Ideas
- Maya's Ideas 4 the Planet
- iMatter Youth Council
- The Pollination Project's Youth Grantmaking Advisory Board
- Girls Inc.
- One Billion Rising
Awards and Achievements
- 2003: Started making flip-books at three years old
- 2008: Started her own company, “Maya's Ideas,” when she was eight years old
- 2012: Honored as an entrepreneur at the SCLC Women's “33rd Annual Drum Major for Justice Awards” in the Youth Category
- 2013: Won the “Black Enterprise Teenpreneur of the Year Award”
- 2013: Included in the “Little Pink Book Spring into Ownership Panel”
- Built her own website
- Featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Ebony, The Steve Harvey Show, Young Entrepreneur, Redbook, FOX 5 Atlanta, Black Enterprise, Etsy, The NRDC, The TOMS Shoes Blog, actress Alicia Silverstone's blog “The Kind Life,” Kiwi Magazine, The Michael Baisden Show, CBS Better Mornings Atlanta, and many other publications
- Panelist/speaker at the economic empowerment summit at Agnes Scott College
- Spoke at TEDx Youth about being an entrepreneur with a sustainable business
- Wrote and illustrated her first book, “Lucy and Sammy Save the Environment”
- Recognized on Forbes’s list of “Notable Grade School Entrepreneurs"
The Huffington Post (How I Found My 'Spark')
Maya's Ideas Shop
TED Talks (Maya Penn: Meet a young entrepreneur, cartoonist, designer, activist …)
Facebook [Maya's Ideas (Where Ideas Come to Life)]
TED Blog (This 13-year-old entrepreneur is out to change the world: A Q&A with Maya Penn)
TED Blog (A power-generating jumprope, a sexy spacesuit and a swim from Cuba to Florida: A recap of TEDWomen 2013 session 1)
One Billion Rising (MEET MAYA PENN, 13 YEAR OLD CEO OF MAYA’S IDEAS)
Entrepreneur (Kidpreneur Maya Penn on Starting Up and Giving Back)
Doers.bz (Interview with Maya Shea Penn, 13-year-old Artist, Founder & CEO of Maya’s Ideas)
Inhabitots (13 Year-Old Maya Shea Penn Makes Sustainable Clothing for Eco-Conscious Fashionistas)
Forbes (In Pictures: Meet 16 Grade School Entrepreneurs)
Black Enterprise (UBR Spotlight: Pre-Teen Entrepreneur Maya Penn)
The Huffington Post (Maya Penn, Budding Entrepreneur)
Techyville (Successful 12-Year-Old Entrepreneur’s Advice to Newbies: ‘Know What Your Ideas Are’)
Etsy (Maya Penn on the DIY Business Conference)