Asia Newson started her business, selling candles she bought wholesale from a distributor when she was 5 years old. She’s now 13, producing her own candles, and projecting that her company will earn $100,000 in revenue in 2017. (For 2016, she projected $70,000 – and made $69,128.30.) More importantly, she has also trained 40 of her peers—young kids in Detroit—to be entrepreneurs, which is to say Newsom has created power and possibility across a whole community. How did she do it? She followed the classic entrepreneur’s path. She had a mentor — her dad. She found a great business opportunity. And she kept going, thriving despite (or because of) of all the challenges that came her way. She calls herself “Super Business Girl,” and she is.
What drew Newson to entrepreneurship? The same thing that fuels many founders — freedom.
“When I was a little girl my mom had to [get] up early, go to work and then come back late and prepare food. It was a cycle. We never really saw her because she was always at work helping someone else build their dream,” Newson explains.
Asia and her ladies. In Formation. Photo credit: LaTasha Thomas
“My dad was an entrepreneur…he didn’t have as much structure as my mom. He sold candles when he was young, and he taught me a lot about it. I was able to sell candles with him, and it was really fun. I wanted to own my own company so I can have more fun and have way more freedom.
Her business has evolved over time. Just like any other entrepreneur, Newson has faced challenges that required her to creatively rethink her pricing, her business model and her sales strategy. When conditions shifted, she shifted with them, turning challenge into opportunity. Her first challenge: growing up.
“[When I was 5,] my dad would take us downtown or door to door to sell the candles. At the time we were buying the candles for a dollar and selling them for $10, but people didn’t care because we were just so little and cute. After awhile…as I was getting older, people wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, you’re cute,’ now, so I wasn’t able to buy a dollar candle and sell it for $10,” Newson said. “As I got older people think I was running a scam, or I was taking my money and using it for something bad — whatever they thought I was doing. They started discouraging me a little bit, and then the security guards were kind of kicking me off the property, and telling me I can’t sell candles in front of this store or that store. I really didn’t know what to do.”
Newson found one temporary fix; she enlisted her mom’s help and got a business license. “After work one day my mom drove me, and we got all of our paperwork done. That was a relief, because now when I went back downtown to sell my candles, they would say, ‘Hey, you need a permit to sell or you can’t sell,’ and I would just whip it out like, ‘Here, you see? You see?’”
However, by this time, Newson already had 20 trainees and the security guards’ questions continued — particularly downtown. But that’s where she needed to be. In Detroit, downtown is where the money is. She needed a bigger solution. That came in the form of Quicken Loans founder, Dan Gilbert – Gilbert is one of the big-name entrepreneurs who has been quietly helping to rebuild downtown Detroit. And, interestingly, it was solved by the exact thing that seemed to be her biggest challenge.
“One day I was walking down Woodward Avenue, and I ran into [Dan Gilbert]. I didn’t know it was him — I was just giving my pitch to anyone who was walking past. He’s said, ‘Hey, I know you.’ I’m like, ‘What??’ And he’s like, ‘Aren’t you Asia Newson, the business girl?’ I was like, ‘Yes!’”
As it turns out, the security guards had been telling Gilbert about “the young kids selling candles downtown.” His response: one of curiosity, and admiration at their hustle. Instead of asking her to leave his properties, Gilbert invited Newson to meet with him at his office. She did. And at that moment, she explains, “he said I have keys to the city, and I can sell anywhere!”
Grateful, she then turned her attention to building her business. She improved her packaging – enlisting the help of local Detroit watch, bicycle and lifestyle brand, Shinola. (She created that partnership simply by calling them up.) She began training more people. And she started getting calls from national media.
“My website was just booming with orders. I was able to show everyone in my community, all of my friends, everyone in my school, how easy and how fun it was being an entrepreneur and having your own business. I was able to build my own dreams. I’m still doing it.”
Newson’s biggest goals, however, aren’t just for herself. She believes in helping other kids – in Detroit and beyond – learn to be entrepreneurs. She wants to open a candle store in every US state. She wants to sell her candles, as well as other products like “Super Business Girl” shirt, bags and school supplies. And she wants to have other kids work, and receive entrepreneurship training, at her stores.
“I’m in the process of hiring people. I have different mentors to teach the children how to make their own money, but I need more,” she says.“That’s my dream.”
First, though, she needs company vehicles to transfer trainees from place to place, “because now I’m usually out of my mom and dad’s car.”
For women and people of color in business, there’s a lot of conversation about glass-ceilings. While Newson is only 13, she has been in business for more than half of her time on earth. Her message to all people: No matter what is going on in your life…no matter what other family responsibilities you have…no matter what your age, geography or gender, you can be a success. Just don’t give up.
“As a child, some adults try not to take you seriously,” says Newson. “You’re going to go through so many things, especially with being [an] entrepreneur. People think it’s easy, but it’s not. You’re going to go through so many things, but you have to never give up. You can’t give up because you’re a child. And you can’t be afraid to fail. That’s one thing that I’ve learned.”
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH:
This is a story of success and power in the Motor City. It is also a story of teen entrepreneurship — and how young people can make a difference. If you know other young people who would like to run their own businesses, here are some resources to help:
A great resource for young entrepreneurs, “Teen Business” features sections on girls in tech, profiles of teen inventors and investors, and business planning resources—for entrepreneurs of all ages.
BUILD.org works with high schools to train youth entrepreneurs, particularly in under-resourced areas. They operate in the Bay Area, Greater Boston, Metro DC, NYC, Los Angeles—and they are currently in preliminary talks to explore launching in Detroit.