Junior-preneurs: Mentors helped young jeweller sell globally

In part four of the Herald’s teen-preneurs series, Jane Phare meets young entrepreneurs who have benefited from mentoring and school programmes like the Young Enterprise Scheme.

Twilight Edwards started making jewellery when she was 8. Now the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta wear her earrings.

Her Taonga by Twilight range is sold all over New Zealand and overseas, success that leaves the 15-year-old a little bewildered. Her actor mother, Kara Edwards, says there have been many influences and mentors in Twilight’s life, “a village” of people who have helped her daughter.

Twilight spent much of her childhood from the age of 3 roaming around Roberton/Motuarohia Island in the Bay of Islands where her dad, Hongi, was caretaker for several properties. The three Edwards children were treated like family by the property owners, giving them early exposure to successful people.

“Every one of those owners were entrepreneurs in their own right,” Edwards says.
“It was a remarkable upbringing. Out there they had all this freedom to build stuff andundo it and rebuild it again and understand how solar works.”

Her husband is “old school” she says, and let the children learn to use tools and blow torches, unlocking an engineering talent in Twilight. The family alternated between the island and Whangarei where Twilight attended te reo Māori immersion school until she started at Whangarei Girls’ High School.

By the age of 11 she was selling her jewellery but needed help with all aspects of business and marketing. She was taken under the wing of mentor and business consultant Moana Tamaariki-Pohe, and is now involved in a Toi Ngapuhi artist-in-residency programme.

Twilight had to write about what she struggled with – how to take orders and keep accounts, marketing the jewellery, techniques she wanted to learn – and the programme organisers found a mentor to help with each aspect.

While the business side of Taonga by Twilight doesn’t come naturally, the creative side does. Twilight attended jewellery classes in Whangarei but soon lost interest in the butterfly brooches the class were making.

She wandered Roberton Island collecting the tiniest taro and kawakawa leaves she could find and set about learning how to coat fragile leaves with 30 layers of silver.

She collected old silver forks, cut the prongs off and fashioned them into “huia beak” earrings. She gave a pair to Jacinda Ardern three years ago at Karetu Marae in the Bay of Islands, and on Waitangi Day this year presented the Prime Minister with a pair of kawakawa earrings.

She learned to solder gold and made bangles laced with greenstone. She began metal stamping people’s iwi names into earrings, selling them for $20.

“They took off,” Edwards says. “People realised they could have identifying jewellery. They were buying them as gifts.”

The issue is keeping up with the orders. As soon as Twilight comes up with a new design, they sell out. When Ardern is photographed wearing her gifted earrings, Twilight is swamped with orders.

Apart from buying the odd treat like a skateboard, Twilight invests money she earns back into the business, buying tools and equipment, gold and silver, or paying for a class to learn a new technique.

Using cafe waste to fertilise pot plants

Napier teenager Declan Monteith has been involved with entrepreneurial projects since he was at primary school. Now, at 16, he and four mates are developing a natural indoor pot-plant fertiliser out of waste from the hospitality industry. Their aim is to make a tablet, organic if possible, that will gradually dissolve in the soil to fertilise the plant.

There has been laughter and some problems along the way. The laughter was over the first name they dreamed up for the fertiliser, Five Buds, referring to their team of five. But some online searching revealed too many associations with cannabis so they dropped that idea. The product is now called Blossom and Declan is sales director of the company.

The main problem, and one they still haven’t cracked, is how to bind the mixture into a solid tablet rather than a powder. The project is part of the Young Enterprise Scheme at Taradale High School and they’re still in the development stage.

They’ve done their research into what makes pot plants thrive. Used coffee grounds have nitrogen and phosphorous, and ground-up egg shells help regulate soil Ph.

They’re working with local cafes and restaurants, particularly organic cafes so they can market the fertiliser as organic. The boys have drawn up a contract and they intend to carry on with the business after the school project is complete.

Declan has had the double advantage of coming from a family that talked openly about economics and best business practice, and attending primary and secondary schools that had entrepreneurial programmes.

Napier’s Bledisloe School also ran the Young Enterprise PrEp entrepreneurial programme, something at which Declan excelled. In Year 5 and 6 the pupils earned “Bleds”, school currency they earned for good behaviour or achievement. They also earned Bleds from entrepreneurial products they developed to sell at the school’s market day.

“You could swap and trade with this currency you’d be earning all year,” Declan says. “You could buy a cupcake, a pet rock or a toothpick catapult at market day.”

Declan’s father Robert is so impressed by the benefits his two sons gained from the Young Enterprise programmes he thinks they should be introduced to all New Zealand schools.

“It’s one of those life skills that everybody needs to have and not all kids get that opportunity. They go into the world not understanding the cost of money and what borrowing can do to you if you don’t make wise choices.”

Declan’s older brother Bryce travelled to Santiago with the Young Enterprise winners to look at business there. It changed his view of the world, causing him to abandon plans to go into hospitality and tourism. He’s now studying international business at Victoria University in Wellington.

Declan also thinks entrepreneurship, money management and “anything to do with the real world,” should be taught in all schools, or at least be an option. He goes as far as saying it would be more useful than teaching Level 2 maths.

“I look at the real world and go ‘some of this algebra, I’m never going to use that.'”

Terry Shubkin, “chief excitement officer” for the Young Enterprise Trust, a charity supported by the Lion Foundation, says the scheme is active in about 200 of the country’s 500 secondary schools. She, too, thinks more schools should actively encourage and teach entrepreneurship.

Shubkin says the organisation lost its funding for primary school programmes several years ago. Lack of resources means Young Enterprise staff now focuses on secondary schools.

However around 70 primary schools download the PrEp programme resources each year, which is available free of charge. As a small charity there is only so much the scheme can take on but there is more work to be done, Shubkin says.

Declan says he found the Young Enterprise Scheme at both primary and secondary schools enormously helpful in terms of learning about launching a start-up.

“And also because I’m pitching my ideas to other people it’s help build self-confidence.”

Not keen on a salary

When he leaves school he hopes to start a business, or study commerce and business management. He’s not keen on the idea of a salary, preferring the money he earns to correlate directly with the work he is doing.

“That’s the appeal of sales, the appeal of starting your own business because you’re not getting paid for your time, you’re getting paid for your effort. The more you put in the more you get out.”

Otago Polytechnic post-graduate programme leader Jodyanne Kirkwood has taught entrepreneurship for years and did her doctorate on the subject. Now in her late 40, says being an entrepreneur was never a recognised career path when she left school. She likes to think that’s changing.

Kirkwood says those early experiences, at home or at school, are invaluable. It is quite common for entrepreneurs to have entrepreneurial parents.
“It wasn’t like they were ever really taught entrepreneurship but they got it through osmosis almost by just being in a family that had entrepreneurs in it.”

Entrepreneurs were often driven Type A personalities, raised to be independent. She refers to a story business magnate Richard Branson tells about a car ride to his grandmother’s home in Devon. Branson, a misbehaving 4-year-old, was ejected from the car by his mother Eve and told to find his own way to Granny’s.

Those who start young, think lemonade stands, learn early from wins and failures, Kirkwood says. Entrepreneurs are often viewed as overnight successes but the back story usually goes way back.

“That’s what a lot of entrepreneurship is about, it’s not like you’re going to come up with your Microsoft idea or SpaceX rockets overnight. You learn from your failures as you go.”

Kirkwood’s advice to parents is to allow children to be excited about opportunities they see, and encourage them if they have entrepreneurial ideas.

“Online influencers, gaming, YouTube, it’s exciting for kids.”

Previously in the junior-preneurs series
• Junior-preneurs: Why youngsters are natural entrepreneurs
• Junior-preneurs: Why children can be taught entrepreneurship
• Junior-preneurs: Teenage contractor employed his first staff at the age of 12

Coming up
• Why social enterprise is important: we look at some of the community projects young entrepreneurs have got behind.

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