Last summer, Hannah Nguyen got her first lesson in slime.
“I thought it felt good,” the now 9-year-old said of the squishy, stretchy substance her cousin had brought to their grandparents’ house.
So Hannah asked the cousin to teach her how to make it. She then experimented with colors and glitter just for fun.
“I brought it to school one day, and this girl asked me to make it for her,” Hannah said.
Soon she was making slime for other kids at White Oaks Elementary in Burke, Virginia, and thinking that her interest could actually be a business.
Fast-forward to a recent Saturday when Hannah was under a tent in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, selling tubs of her Slimy Hannah creations for $3 to $10. She did a brisk business, making more than $400 in three hours, mom Haily said.
Hannah was one of more than 100 young entrepreneurs taking part in the Acton Children’s Business Fair. Kids from age 6 to 14 sold handmade soaps, fruit pops, paintings and dozens of other products. They passed out samples and business cards. They made sales pitches to potential customers wandering along Connecticut Avenue.
The event was put on by Acton DC, a local chapter of an organization that encourages kids to be entrepreneurs.
David Kirby and Nicole Spencer, D.C. residents with family and friends who are entrepreneurs, heard about the original fair in Austin, Texas, and its method of encouraging kids to learn by doing.
“It’s very rare today to take part in real-world projects,” Kirby said.
So the couple brought the idea to Washington, one of 15 cities to host a fair last year. Forty-two local kids took part. This year, nearly 150 applied, with some ending up on a waiting list because of limited space.
Kirby recruited volunteers to help organize the event and judge the businesses but didn’t do much marketing.
“We challenged the kids to market their own business,” he said.
Hannah promoted her booth at the fair on the Slimy Hannah Facebook page, which she said her family set up about three months ago.
Zoe Antczak-Chung and Avajane Lei, fifth-graders at Horace Mann Elementary in the District, also used social media to spread the word about their Little Green Home business, which makes environmentally friendly skin-care and bath products.
The girls and a fellow classmate came up with the idea in April.
“It took a few weeks of giving up our free time,” Avajane said.
They made fizzy bath bombs, scented hand sanitizer and a few other products. Zoe and Avajane came to the fair in matching green tutus and hats embroidered with their logo. They weren’t shy about chatting with customers.
The efforts impressed the judges enough to earn the award for business with most growth potential among the 9- and 10-year-olds at the fair.
Judge Dan Mindus said choosing the winners was no easy task.
“Many of the kids had a lot of passion,” said Mindus, who makes his living investing in businesses. “They might be doing this for the next decade or two decades or three decades.”
Danielle McNerney of Ijamsville, Maryland, said she doesn’t intend to give up her business anytime soon. The 14-year-old is the founder of Save the Moms, which sells packets of recipes she came up with to help teens learn to cook.
“My whole goal is to get kids into the kitchen and moms out of the kitchen,” said Danielle, who started cooking at age 8 and is a returning champion on this season’s “Chopped Junior” TV cooking show.
Her packets of recipe cards and access to video tutorials had brought in about $600 after just a week of online sales, she said.
Next up is asking businesses in nearby Frederick, Maryland, to stock the packets. When asked if she planned to spend part of summer vacation working on Save the Moms, Danielle didn’t hesitate.
“This is my summer,” she said.