3 kid CEOs making big bucks

Forget lemonade stands: Today's young entrepreneurs have real businesses -- and bring in real money.

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By Abby Ellin

Leanna Archer, an honor student in Islip, N.Y., was 8 when she first tried to make a batch of homemade, natural hair products just like her mom's. Soon she began selling them in the neighborhood and then to stores.

Today the 13-year-old Leanna is the owner and CEO of Leanna's Inc., which sells hair-oil treatments, shampoos, conditioners and deep conditioners. Her products are sold online and in stores across the country, and she expects 2008 revenues to reach $150,000 -- up from $45,000 in 2007.

In October 2008, Leanna became the youngest CEO to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ. This kid is making $5,000 a month

But while Leanna is clearly a high achiever, she's hardly alone. Often inspired by their parents, an increasing number of kids are starting their first businesses while they're still doing homework.

"Generation Y entrepreneurs enjoy taking risks," says Sean C. Rush, president and chief executive of Junior Achievement, an organization dedicated to inspiring young people to become successful in business. "Younger would-be entrepreneurs, even as young as 8 years old, indicate an interest in starting their own businesses, in order to use their skills and abilities, to be their own boss and to build something for the future." Slide show: 10 entrepreneurs under 18

Leanna works seven days a week to keep her business going. On weekends, she makes and packages the products at home with her parents' help. During the week -- after completing her homework -- she packs boxes for the orders she receives daily on her Web site.

"I want to let kids know that if I can do it, they can too," Leanna says, adding that poet Maya Angelou is one of her role models. "I want to go to schools all over the U.S. and let kids know that they can become anything they want to be. They just have to believe."

Family and friends can be key to unlocking a child's inner entrepreneur. Real-estate developer Frank McKinney, for example, teaches his daughter that in order to succeed, you have to make work fun -- and think young. Everyday he shows her how: His office is in a tree house outside their Florida home. Go inside this millionaire's tree house

For Alexis Holmes it was her godfather, chef Tim Winn, who sparked her business interest. In 2005, Holmes attended a cooking school at McGavock High School in Nashville, Tenn., where Winn was teaching a continuing education class.

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The class inspired Holmes to give back to the community. She began selling pies to local ministries and at various fundraisers to help raise money for the Oasis Center, an agency in her hometown that helps kids in crisis.

"Initially, I thought: 'How nice. She's using her Girl Scout skills,'" recalls her mother, Gemna Stringer Holmes. But Holmes, now 16, was not just being a do-gooder.

Within two months, Alexis' Famous Pies had sold nearly $20,000 worth of goods (including wedding cakes). Holmes went on to open a full-time bakery, employing young people from the Oasis Center, and has done so well that her parents are now building her a restaurant/kitchen to keep up with the demand. (Clients include folks like Wynonna Judd, Faith Hill and some of the Tennessee Titans football team.)

Parents don't always realize just how much their own business and creative acumen rubs off on their kids. But it does.

"Being a business owner, I've always taught my children to be entrepreneurs," says Stringer Holmes, who owns an environmental pest-control company. "Her brothers have all had a gig while in school and college. But I never thought that my daughter would take this to the level she's at now. Whenever we're out, we're approached by individuals and clients and the comments are always the same: 'She is you.'"

The younger Holmes takes that as a great compliment. "I couldn't have done anything like this without my mother," she says. "She's my role model. She's shown me that with hard work you can get anywhere you want to be."

Ambitious teens have plenty of opportunities. If you can fill a need, there's a business waiting to be built. Even when, as sometimes happens, the need is your own.

Take Christina Pendleton of Columbus, Ohio. At 13, she needed to raise $3,000 for a mission trip to Australia and New Zealand. So she started a part-time business called Christina's Candy Creations, specializing in homemade candy bouquets, chocolate-dipped fruits and pretzels.

She ending up making $5,000 by whipping up batches of confections -- and when she returned home, she kept the sweets coming. Now 17 and a high school senior, she has earned around $20,000 since starting her business five years ago.

"When I came back, so many people wanted candy,

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and I figured it would help me pay for college," says Pendleton, who wants to study criminal justice -- but also to open her own candy store and bakery.

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Published April 03, 2008

Produced by Elizabeth Daza/Graphics by Joe Farro and Hakan Isik