There’s this thing online called “trolling.” It’s when you post something really outrageous just to get a reaction out of people. That’s what I think the online magazine Slate was doing recently when it posted an opinion piece critical of lemonade stands.
I’m not making this up. In a piece headlined, “Down with Lemonade Stands,” a Michal Lemberger said the idea of a lemonade stand as a commercial enterprise was “nonsense.”
“My kids had a lemonade stand, and it didn’t look like any version of capitalism I’ve ever seen,” Lemberger wrote.
No one asked for change, and some customers gave the children a dollar and refused to take any lemonade.
He wrote: “People think of lemonade stands as representative of pure enterprise, but in enthusiastically supporting them, they deny the true nature of our consumer culture, which rests on both the ideal and reality of competition and ruthlessness.”
Lemberger thinks this is terrible. I disagree.
Saying that lemonade stands fail to teach children the harsh realities of capitalism is like saying training wheels fail to teach children the harsh realities of sidewalks. It misses the point.
The training wheels help a child learn to ride a bike, and a lemonade stand can help a child learn what it takes to run a business.
Of course, kids won’t learn anything if their parents do the work, but they might if their parents serve more as advisers and guide them through the process.
Running a business comes down to solving a series of problems, so parents should start at the beginning: How do you make lemonade? How much do the ingredients cost? The cups? The ice? Do you have the money in your piggy bank, or will you need a loan from the Bank of Mom and Dad?
How many cups of lemonade are in a pitcher? How much will you need to charge per cup to cover your expenses, repay Mom and Dad, and still make a profit?
Is this a sustainable business? Sadly, no. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about half of all small businesses fail within the first five years. The failure rate of lemonade stands is even higher, maybe an hour or two, but that’s OK. Kids can learn a lot in a few hours, and lessons learned in childhood can last a lifetime.
That’s what prompted the National Federation of Independent Business to create the Young Entrepreneur Foundation. Since 2003, the foundation has awarded more than 2,300 college scholarships to graduating high school seniors who have started their own successful small businesses. This year’s California Young Entrepreneur of the Year winners ranged from clothing and accessory design to a business that sells energy-efficient products for everyday life. And in 2010, 2011 and 2012, California was home to the National YEF winner—and I bet most of those kids had a lemonade stand at one point or another.
The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation works with schools throughout the year to help develop the next generation of small-business owners and encourages parents to get involved, too, by helping their children open lemonade stands.
This summer, the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is asking everyone to sign a pledge to buy a glass of lemonade from budding entrepreneurs in their neighborhood. The form is online at www.NFIB.com/lemonade-day.
Who knows? You might help encourage a boy or girl to start a real business someday.
Michelle Orrock is the National Federation of Independent Business/California communications director. The small-business association, commemorating its 70th anniversary, has offices in Washington, D.C., and all 50 state capitals. Founded in 1943 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, it gives small- and independent-business owners a voice in shaping the public policy issues that affect their business. The federation’s mission is to promote and protect the right of members to own, operate, and grow their businesses. For more information, visit nfib.com. Send comments to the New Times executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.