Calvin O’Dell isn’t your average 11-year-old kid. Sure, he attends school in the suburbs of Chicago and needs his parents to drive him around, but he is already set on being an entrepreneur.
One day, while at a toy store, Calvin stumbled upon a book about how to create balloon animals. He was instantly curious. From the book, “I learned the basic animals like a flower, a sword, a giraffe, and more,” he said. But then he knew he wanted to expand his skills – so he turned to YouTube to watch people demonstrate some more complicated designs.
Calvin decided instead to use his own money, even though he was taking on the risk. He believed in his business.”
At this point, Calvin was just enjoying his new hobby and practicing his skills. But when he attended a block party near his house one day last summer, everything changed.
Calvin had brought some balloons and was making simple animals for the neighborhood kids. “Pretty soon, I was surrounded by a whole bunch of kids,” he said. “Then I thought, why not start a business?”
One of his first decisions was how to purchase his initial supplies. His dad told him that he would buy the balloons if Calvin needed, but that Calvin would have to repay the full amount plus interest. Calvin decided instead to use his own money, even though he was taking on the risk. He believed in his business. “The balloons, you make a huge profit out of them, so it’s not a huge problem.”
The next decision Calvin had to make was how to form his pricing structure. Normally, he will show up at neighborhood events and make money on tips, but he realized he could expand business by offering the option to hire him by the hour.
Calvin looked online at the rates charged by “regular people” (or “professionals” said his dad). “The average one would be about $75-100 [per hour], so I thought why not do it for $50?“ He realized that he could charge a much lower rate and help attract business. Calvin has already worked his first party and has another one coming up soon.
“When school starts, it gets tougher,” he said. But he really enjoys the business. Calvin tries to make responsible choices with his money, giving 10 percent to the church, 10 percent to charity, and 10 percent to his savings. The rest he uses for whatever he would like – including more balloons.
Calvin is constantly looking at new designs and evaluating whether they would be easy and quick enough to help spur business. “There are probably thousands of balloons I could learn to make,” he said. “Right now I could probably make about 25-30.” He makes everything from the “Octopus” to the “Spiderman” and now makes football players too, adds his dad.
Though Calvin is a diehard Packers fan, I asked if he would make me a Chicago Bears player. “He doesn’t make those,” joked his dad. But Calvin interjected: “No, I do – I just pop them!”
The future looks bright for Calvin. Right now he loves growing his business and learning how to market his skills. It’s good preparation for the future. “If I’m in college and can’t find anything else to do, I can do balloons,” he added.
At 11 years old, Calvin may be one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the country. But more than that, he should be an inspiration to others that no one is too young or too inexperienced to create opportunity in their community.
Daniel Huizinga is a columnist for Opportunity Lives covering business and politics. Follow him on Twitter @HuizingaDaniel.