An Apple Valley 12-year-old won a $15,000 grant for entrepreneurship from a local nonprofit organization after creating and selling her own line of "corn cozies."
At an early age, Morgan Rohwer knew she'd have to rely on her own ingenuity to finance her lifestyle. She wanted the latest technology at her fingertips. She wanted to travel.
The Apple Valley 12-year-old found some measure of success with the conventional kids' stuff: She babysat and watched neighbors' pets to pay for an iPad and an Xbox. But with a pricey class trip to Washington, D.C., on the horizon, Rohwer needed to think bigger.
So Rohwer launched the MySpa Tranquility Collection complete with a blitz of TV commercials and a professional web campaign. She's doing it with the help of a $15,000 business mentorship from the nonprofit MogulNation.
Inver Grove Heights school board member and businesswoman Bridget Cronin Sutton created MogulNation to help creative teens launch and grow their own businesses. Rohwer is the first recipient.
"Kids have an amazing capacity to do really cool things if we give them the tools and guidance to do it," said Sutton, a mother of four. "To them anything is possible."
Kendra Swier nominated her daughter, Rohwer, who had started making and selling "corn cozies" to raise money for the D.C. trip. The cozies are natural heating pads filled with dried corn that holds heat when microwaved.
Rohwer, a seventh-grader at Valley Middle School, started by researching designs and costs. She chose a corn filling over rice, and bought a used sewing machine for $25. Rohwer thought about what would appeal to customers and decided to cover the wraps in fleece.
"I wanted the fleece because people want comfortable things. I wanted it to be something soft, something you could really snuggle into," she said.
Rohwer logged her expenses and sales on a spreadsheet. Initially, she and her mother sewed the corn cozies and Rohwer marketed them to neighbors, friends, family and even teachers. Selling them at $20 apiece, she earned more than $600 from home sales alone.
"She was doing all the same things that adult entrepreneurs would do," Sutton said. "She looked for capital equipment used online. She is leveraging technology to help her business. She just naturally thinks that way. She is very organized and she is very outgoing."
She created a spa package
With the help of MogulNation, Rohwer tweaked the design, switching from a fleece to a bamboo covering. She then created the spa package, which now includes a cozy, a candle and a CD. It's being professionally marketed with cable TV ads and a website.
"I was so excited," Rohwer said. "It's really cool."
Sales have been modest so far. She'd sold 77 by Christmas Eve, Sutton said. Rohwer earns about 5 percent, or about $2, for every $39.95 spa package sold for the first few months. It's considered an internship, Sutton said. Afterward, Rohwer will own all intellectual property and marketing materials.
In the meantime, she's continued to hand-make the fleece cozies and sell them to family and friends.
During the Christmas marketing season, Rohwer learned the ropes. She attended the photo shoot for the product, and was surprised to learn that the photo shoot was at a photographer's home studio.
"I explained working out of your house and around your schedule is exactly how most adult startups work too," Sutton said.
During the next phase, Rohwer will call the shots as they embark on a Valentine's marketing campaign.
"We will act as more her team of employees," Sutton said.
This is a program that is making a difference," Swier said. "If you light a kid's fire at a young age, they can take off with it."
When she's not working on her startup, Rohwer is learning to play the guitar and piano. Photos of country-pop songstress Taylor Swift cover her closet door. Her goal is to one day become a pediatrician.
She is a member of her school's Student Leadership Program. Valley Middle School media specialist Laura Aase, one of the leadership program's advisors, said Rohwer is hardworking and humble. Aase said she bought a corn cozy to give as a Christmas present.
"She's got a lot of pizazz," Aase said. "She is a very energetic and responsible kid."
Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.