For some teenagers, a swing-shift at a local hamburger stand and weekend baby-sitting jobs just don't cut it.
Samuel Francis, for instance, is at age 14 the owner and operator of Sam's Candy Co., with two stores in Davis County. He started the business at age 13 with $1,000 and the front 10-feet of his dad's office.Francis now pauses between homework assignments at Judge Memorial High School to care for the business, which grossed $81,000 in 1988 and is projected to gross $180,000 this year. He has eight employees, all considerably older than he is.
"When I hire people, I make sure they know and understand that I am the boss," he said. "I had to fire one woman because she kept trying to be the boss. That was a difficult decision to make."
Utah is full of successful young entrepreneurs, some of whom are too young to drive. Ten of them are vying for the title of the state's Young Entrepreneur of the Year, an award to be given Thursday afternoon that carries a $10,000 cash prize.
But even if they don't win, chances are all of them will continue to prosper. They have realized earlier than most people that it's more fun, not to mention profitable, to be the boss than to work for one.
All 10 finalists have at least one common denominator. They have learned how to turn their hobbies into big money.
Eric Dickson of Logan was 16 when he decided he could earn money from one of his favorite pastimes - collecting baseball cards. His father had a friend in Bountiful who ran a successful baseball card shop. Dickson spent a while in the shop, learning how things worked. Then he returned to Logan, paid $500 for a modest stock of cards and opened his own store in the attic above his father's Taco Time restaurant.
Now 18 and in his final year at Logan High School, he keeps the shop, known as the "Baseball Card Attic," open after school and on weekends with help from his older brother. His stock has grown to $15,000, and the store grossed $35,000 last year.
"I didn't pay myself an income," he said. "I put it all back into the business."
Bryan Lampropoulous, 17, has enough responsibilities with schoolwork and athletics to keep most teenagers busy. He was the leading rusher on the Olympus High football team last year, set a state record by squatting 700 pounds of weights and earned a football scholarship to Ricks College next fall.
But Lampropoulous also finds time to breed, sell and service exotic fish. He specializes in African Cichlids, a rare, expensive fish found only in two lakes on the African continent.
"I kept fish as a hobby, but it got to be expensive," he said. Cichlids cost anywhere from $1 to $50 apiece. "I decided instead of earning someone else money, I'd make myself some money."
Like the rest, Lampropoulous has found little help from public schools. He learned about business by asking questions of his father, who is president and chief operating officer of Merit Medical Inc.
And, like the rest, he has a business sophistication that belies his age. He sells aquariums and fish to corporations, convincing business leaders of his product's calming effects. He then sells his clients a service contract and guarantees to replace any dead fish.
"There could be $500 to $1,000 of fish in any tank," he said. "I feel I'm responsible. I'm trained to tell if there are any diseases or if anything is going wrong."
The business won't stop when he goes to college. "I'll be supplying pet stores from Provo to Rexburg (Idaho)," he said.
Kyle Christensen, 17, is raising 4,000 turkeys and 40 sheep this year in Sanpete County. He makes it to Sanpete High School each day, barely on time, after having tended to his business.
Nathanael Cook of Orem High School deals in rare LDS Church documents, books and memorabilia, although he says he probably won't make it his life's work.
"It's too shaky," he said, while carefully showing an 1835 first-edition copy of the Doctrine and Covenants. "One month I'll gross $20,000 and the next month only $3,000."
Clinton Robertson, a 17-year-old Springville High student, builds and sells customized play houses, sheds and dog houses. He employs 10 of his friends and has trained each how to build separate portions of the products.
Emily Backman, the only female among the finalists, runs a bed and breakfast inn in St. George while attending Dixie High School; Curtis Doman, a Bingham High student, operates SoftArt Computer Design, which provides loan documents for financial institutions; Wallace Nez designs and produces pottery while attending White Horse High School; and Paul Tew, a Bountiful High student, designs business logos, letterheads, posters, banners, fliers and personalized greeting cards.
State officials in charge of the contest spend a lot of time shaking their heads. The teenagers have a way of making older people feel like failures. But then, these teenagers seem to have been born with their skills.
"I've always liked business," Francis said. "While other kids were playing football, I would wait until they got thirsty and sell them lemonade."