Following in their footsteps, the following Irish teenage entrepreneurs have started their own businesses while still at school.
Fenu Health, an equine health company, came about when sisters Annie and Kate Madden achieved second place for their entry at the 2015 Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in Dublin’s RDS. The sisters from Co Meath grew up around horses, and their project was based on encouraging horses to eat by adding various flavours to their feed. A congratulatory phonecall from Michael Connolly of animal feed company Red Mills led to an invitation for the sisters to attend Equitana, the world’s biggest equestrian fair in Germany two weeks later.
Annie, who is sitting her Junior Cert, says at the time a business wasn’t even on their radar. “We were at the exhibition for a bit of fun and all of a sudden we were thrown into the big bad world of business,” she said.
Jordan Casey, who at age 16 has already had three companies, set up Casey Games at the age of 12. Two years later he launched TeachWare, a cloud-based app for managing the classroom. His third company, KidsCode, is an app to teach young people how to program in a games environment.
Jordan, who began programming at nine, started to build games after discovering the video game Minecraft. His parents, who are accountants, were persuaded to invest in an Apple Mac by the then 12-year-old, who had discovered he could sell the games he had made in the Apple store.
Katie McGloin’s entrepreneurial streak began in first year when she imported a shipment of One Direction bracelets from China to sell at a school fair. Her company KT Clothing, which makes gender-neutral clothing, came from her experience trying to find clothes. While three of her friends are very girly, she says she wasn’t really comfortable in dresses or skirts. The company which launched last December has three products, a sweatshirt with the slogan “I am Myself” and two T-shirts.
Katie built a website, which has seen a surge in traffic since she won Foróige Youth Entrepreneur of the Year earlier this year. The 16-year-old, from Bundoran Co Donegal, says she gets a lot of her drive from her mother, who is a reflexologist, and her teacher Ms Igoe who helped her get her idea to market.
Running a company which exports to 12 countries and employs eight staff, while keeping on top of your homework is not easy.
“Our phones are our office. I’d be on the bus on the way in the morning, and doing my emails and taking phonecalls, sorting out the day’s work,” she says.
Staying organised is important, says Jordan.
“I schedule my day down to a tee. I go to school normally, I do studies afterwards, and I work on my business at night,” he said.
A big challenge to overcome is scepticism in the business world towards entrepreneurs still at school. Equitana was an eye-opener for the Maddens, and though the attitude towards them was sceptical at first, by the third day people were queueing up to talk to them, says Annie Madden.
CoderDojo started around the time Casey Games was set up. Jordan, who is invited to speak at business conferences around the world, says Ireland is a lot more receptive to the idea of school-age entrepreneurs because of the computer club movement.
The next step for the Madden sisters is breaking into the US market.
“There’s no reason why in five years’ time that we can’t be in 120 countries with 80 employees,” says Annie.
The next step for Jordan is an initiative called the Teenage Entrepreneur Movement, “a sort of LinkedIn” for young entrepreneurs all over the world”, he said.