Most year 5 students don’t wake up early to make 200 doughnuts before school but Isaac Tulemija isn’t a typical 11-year-old.
The Geelong schoolboy, who runs his own baking business, is part of a new crop of enterprising young Australians who are launching their own food ventures and raising money for charity.
By promoting their wares via social media and e-commerce sites, these budding food operators are putting a digital spin on the old-fashioned concept of the street-side lemonade stand.
Isaac, who has coeliac disease, started Gluten Free by Isaac two years ago after visiting Hawaii, where he discovered gluten-free foods are widely available.
With the support of his mum and dad, Isaac now sells doughnuts, pretzels and chocolate wheels to local cafes and caterers.
His grandmother donated his first fryer, and his parents help manage his social media accounts. Due to his success, Isaac was picked to be the first young ambassador for charity Coeliac Australia.
“I get to help educate people about coeliac disease and inspire young people with coeliac disease to see that they can do anything they want,” Isaac says.
Youth and inexperience in business are not necessarily a disadvantage in starting a food venture, says Melbourne baker Morgan Hipworth.
The 18-year-old is already a seasoned business operator, with his own shop in Windsor, 15 staff and 72,000 followers on Instagram.
“[Young people] are not necessarily scared of failure,” Hipworth says.
“A lot of people who are a bit older have seen what can happen … if it doesn’t work out.
“When I started I didn’t really have that fear because I started at home, so it was very low risk.”
In Sydney, Wahroonga student Benjamin Burwood started making his own jam when he was 10 years old, before he eventually starting selling via word of mouth, at school stalls, and via social media and an online shop.
His brand, BenJAMin, goes on sale in mid-November at five Harris Farm stores on Sydney’s lower north shore.
The business has helped the now 18-year-old cope with a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 1 and raised funds for charity Mary MacKillop Today to help children in Timor-Leste, where his mother was born.
“The hardest bit was cutting up 400 punnets of strawberries in the middle of my HSC exams,” Burwood says.
Two year 9 girls from Strathcona Girls Grammar in Melbourne’s east, Jess Schmerl and Ebony Reid, launched their biscuit-decorating venture with $20 seed funding from their school’s entrepreneurial program, which is run with business organisation League of Extraordinary Women.
Twenty per cent of The Cookie Cart’s proceeds go to Rotary emergency relief project FORaMEAL.
The course taught the duo how to come up with a business idea and do market research.
“We discovered a lot of people liked the idea of flowers and summery designs,” Ebony says.
Amelia Watkins, 16, from the Mornington Peninsula started her own micro-enterprise with the help of caterer Marlene Hoff.
Amelia, who has autism and sensory challenges that limit her diet, took classes with Hoff to develop her cooking skills and learn how to make dotty cookies, her favourite cafe treat.
She now bakes and sells her own range of biscuits to local cafes and at markets, including choc chip, jam drops and yoyos, so far earning enough money to buy her own mobile phone.
“It’s pushing her to do things she may not do otherwise,” Amelia’s mother, Lara, says.
Some young entrepreneurs are already expanding their business. Isaac Tulemija is slowly branching into merchandise, competitions and collaborations.
“From a parental perspective we try to keep it balanced for Isaac,” his mother, Michelle Tulemija, says. “We want him to enjoy what he does and not overload him too much.”
Tips from young pro baker Morgan Hipworth
Social media is the new word of mouth. “Social media’s a really great way to connect with our customers, on a personal level as well. Instagram has been key – it’s the only form of marketing we do.”
Not sure about food safety? “Council is your best friend. A lot of people think council is out to make your life hard, but the council is actually really great – they will talk you through the steps.”
Find supportive people. “You’re always going to need someone to talk to. There are decisions you’ll have to make that are hard to make by yourself. For me it’s been amazing to have supportive parents to sit down with and have a conversation about what course of action should be taken.”
Don’t be afraid of legal and financial paperwork. All the information you need is online, and if there’s anything you don’t understand, ask a parent or friend to explain it.
Balance your time. “I made the conscious decision to work through all my breaks at school and get my homework done. That way when I got home I could focus on the business or having time to myself.”
You don’t need millions to start a business. “If you have patience and determination you can start with absolutely nothing.”
Turn down the pressure. “Remember you have the rest of your life ahead of you so it may be annoying if things aren’t running perfectly but there’ll always be tomorrow and hopefully if you work hard something will come your way.”
Find something you’re naturally passionate about, and let it grow from there. “Customers can really tell when you love it and know what you’re doing.”
Learn from others. “If you’ve got an idea or something you want to achieve, contact other people and reach out, or look for work experience.”
Young food operators around Australia
- Gluten Free by Isaac glutenfreebyisaac.com.au
- BenJAMin benjaminfoods.com.au
- The Cookie Cart instagram.com/cookiecart_
- Bistro Morgan bistromorgan.com.au
- Amelia’s Cookie Co instagram.com/ameliascookieco
- Croc Candy instagram.com/croc.candy
- Freya’s Delights freyasdelights.com
- Ice Kween instagram.com/iceykweens
- Hannah Burgess instagram.com/hannah_burgesss
- Leila Haddad instagram.com/leilasknives