working girl: maya penn, teen entrepreneur

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– As told to Tamara Pridgett

Most entrepreneurs know that running your own business can teach you valuable lessons that can apply both to life and work. Maya Penn founder of Maya’s Ideas is learning some of those lessons without having graduated high school yet. This eco-conscious fourteen year old entrepreneur and animator has already been featured in Forbes and given a TedTalk. Get ready to be impressed if you’re not already. Here’s Maya’s story!


Age: 14

Location: Atlanta, GA

Profession: Entrepreneurship, Eco-design, Animation, Art

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How did you get started?

I started my company in 2008 when I was just eight years old. I would often find beautiful fabrics around the house and have all of these different ideas for designs. I could make a scarf, hat, bag, etc. Soon I started making my own headbands to wear myself. I noticed that when I wore them when I was out, people would stop me and say, “Wow, that’s really cute! Where can I get one?” Then I had the idea to start my own business, and thus Maya’s Ideas was born.

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What’s an average day like?

I always start my day with prayer and meditation to get my day started on a positive note. Then I’ll go for a morning walk with my dog. Then I’ll begin doing my schoolwork. Although it depends on the week, I might have an interview or speaking engagements scheduled. Since I’m homeschooled my week is very flexible. My parents discuss the night before about what subjects we will be focusing on. After about four hours of schoolwork (with a lunch break in between) I’ll go in my studio and start working on my company. Orders, projects, website updates and so on and so forth. Of course, while I’m in my creative space, I’ll start making something creative—whether it be one of my eco-friendly designs, coding/scripting or some of my animations. Then I’ll just hang out with family or friends, read a book, play a game, or just sit around and doodle. Then from there it’s bedtime.

The ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

Ups: making new designs, being able to connect with customers and learning something new. Through running my own business I’ve learned lots of lessons that I can use in the business world as well as daily life. Downs: Once in a while mishaps like goof ups in the website’s coding (which can sometimes take hours for me to fix) and things that go wrong here and there. But I’ve learned that it’s good for things to go wrong in a business because you learn from those experiences and then you have knowledge to prevent the problem from occurring again or know what to do when it does.

Your greatest achievement so far?

I think one of my greatest achievements is getting the opportunity to speak on the global TEDWomen stage. It’s been one of the biggest platforms for me to share my story and tell the world why I’m passionate about giving back to the environment and the community. I’ve always received emails from kids, teens and adults alike who say they have been inspired by my story and want to follow their passions and have been encouraged to give back, but since my TEDTalk went live my inbox has exploded and it’s given me the chance to connect with other awesome people who are doing awesome things in the world.

What might be next for you?

Currently, I’m working on two animated series which I premiered during my TEDWomen Talk. One is called The Pollinators, and the other is called Malicious Dishes. I’m also working on some projects with my nonprofit Maya’s Ideas 4 The Planet and I’m even writing my own book about my journey as a young entrepreneur.

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As a young business woman what advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Start an idea journal where you can write down all of your ideas for your business. Whether it’s a small thought that crosses your mind or the next big idea, it’s important to have it written down. Also, you have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. Don’t get discouraged if things are going slower than you expected and don’t give up too quickly.

What is the most important thing you have learned as an entrepreneur?

I’ve learned that it’s important to trust your instincts, especially in the business world.

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What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?

  • I always use healthy and organic products on my hair. I’ve come out with my own hair elixir (it’s on my website), which is a family recipe made from healthy oils such as coconut oil, rosemary oil, jojoba oil, and a proprietary blend that both me and my mom use on our hair. We stay away from products with sulfates, parabens, phthalates, etc.
  • I eat healthy and organic foods, which in turn leads to healthy hair. I make a green smoothie with vegetables such as kale, other fruits and more that I drink everyday. It tastes great too! 🙂 I also drink wheat grass juice, which is really great for hair, skin, and overall good health.
  • Always drinking plenty of water is essential. I drink reverse osmosis and alkaline water.
  • Sleep is important as well. Your hair grows its most when you sleep. Getting plenty of rest is one of the best things you can do for your body.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS keep your hair moisturized. Never let your hair get extremely dry and brittle.

Fun Fact:  I’m a huge nerd/geek! I’m really into technology and coding. I built my first website in HTML and I’m currently learning Python and Javascript. I also cosplay and go to a bunch of animation/gaming conventions.

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