Making It

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, April 8, 2007

Kailyn Cage was the kind of kid who loved candy (still does) and always had some with her. "Everyone called me Candy Girl," she says. So it made sense to the financially savvy Kailyn to bring a book bag full of treats to sell to fellow students at Kettering Middle School in Prince George's County. Kailyn had no idea that operating a business at school wasn't allowed, she says. "I was just running all over the place selling candy. Even my teachers bought candy."

By the time administrators discovered and shut down her little enterprise, Kailyn -- who has always wanted to run her own business and has always been a big saver, according to her mother -- had made a cool $1,000 selling Reese's, Snickers and peanut M&M's. Donna Cage persuaded Kailyn to use the profit on a couple of three-headed candy machines, the kind filled with loose M&M's or gumballs. "If you want to sell candy, you're going to do it the right way, legally," she says she told her daughter.

Kailyn received permission to install the machines at a beauty salon and a Giant store in Northwest Washington, and she surveyed employees and customers to find out what sweets they preferred. "That's the difference between my vending company and every other candy company," says Kailyn, a tiny dynamo with a huge smile. "It caters to what the customer wants." And that's the reason she named her business Kailen's Candy Catering (with a slightly different spelling of her name).

While at Largo High School, Kailyn continued to expand her company and her knowledge. She bought a soda machine and snack machine and installed them at Cathedral of Christ Baptist Church in Chapel Oaks, where her father is pastor. She took entrepreneurship classes and entered several competitions, becoming the D.C. region's Ernst & Young/Junior Achievement Youth Entrepreneur of 2006 (the interview made her "pretty late to my prom, but that was okay").

She also maintained a 3.94 GPA, ran championship track and netted a $10,000 profit last year. "She does everything to the fullest," Donna Cage, a Prince George's County Schools resource teacher, says.

Kailyn does most of the work herself -- stocking, unjamming and programming the machines -- though family members have helped.

Now a freshman and middle-distance runner at the University of Maryland, Kailyn, 19, plans to take business and engineering courses to fulfill her goal of designing vending machines.

Asher Epstein, director of the university's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, where Kailyn just set up a candy machine, says she's unusual because she is already running a profitable business. "She's really figured this out on her own and is quite an impressive young lady," he says.

Kailyn isn't the typical college student in other ways. When asked what she does for fun, she laughs and says, "Sleep."

"I'm not really interested in the social aspect of college life, or the partying and the drinking," Kailyn adds. Her priorities, she says, are to "expand my business, get knowledge so I can invent my own vending machines, and run track."

Are you also a young entrepreneur who's turning a profit? E-mail

© 2007 The Washington Post Company