BANGOR, Maine — Capitalism and entrepreneurship were the farthest things from the minds of the 200 children playing at The Maine Jump entertainment complex on Hogan Road on Saturday afternoon, but one of them could become the next captain of industry.
A man in a yellow outfit wearing a smiling lemon head named Wise Lemon greeted children as representatives of Lemonade Day were on hand to pass out information kits including an entrepreneur workbook to parents and children.
Lemonade Day — held Sunday, June 3 this year -- is a national learning program that teaches youth how to start, own and operate their own business — a lemonade stand.
“The best thing about this is it empowers these kids and makes business cool to them,” said Ryan Hatch, co-owner of The Maine Jump, one of Lemonade Day’s 19 statewide community sponsors. “They can do their own business, generate their own income and be their own boss.”
The annual event began in Houston in 2007 and expanded into Maine last year. Last year, an estimated 120,000 children in the U.S. and Canada participated.
“We just had the Portland area and 831 kids involved in it last year, but it’s really expanded all over,” said Kate Gooding, executive director for Lemonade Day Maine.
The program is open for children ages 5-18 or in grades K-12. There is no cost for participants and awards are given in three statewide categories — best lemonade recipe, best stand (appearance and operation), and best Lemon Bizkidz business model. Prizes include include $2,500 and $500 scholarships, official lemonade stands at the Fourth of July fireworks shows in the cities of Bangor and Portland, and prizes from Wright-Ryan Construction of Portland, The Maine Jump and other sponsors.
“I get a lot of feedback from parents that they’re learning a lot through their child and their experiences with this,” said Gooding, who sold the Mount Desert Island business she ran with husband Don and moved to Portland before joining up with Lemonade Day. “I was in manufacturing for several years and noticed the struggles small manufacturers go through for the first five years or less, and I felt this really fit perfectly with the kind of work I wanted to do to promote entrepreneurial spirit with a younger generation to help them become more successful.”
The program teaches youths how to set goals, develop a business plan; budget resources, money and materials; find investors; choose a site for their stand; advertise; construct a stand; purchase raw materials; perform accounting duties; review their business models; and even give back to their communities.
“The first kid to sign up this year [Dean Sawyer, 11, of Portland] raised $500 last year and gave $400 to charity,” said Gooding. “One little girl in South Portland didn’t spend any on herself. She came up with her own drive-thru stand and donated all the money she made to autism.
“The kids seem to learn early on they need to give back to their communities.”
Lemonade Day kits, which come in a bright yellow backpack, are available at all 56 Maine locations for founding sponsor Bangor Savings Bank and various parks and recreation departments.
“Since we first put out an initial email blast, we were getting calls within five minutes last Friday,” said Tim Baude, recreation programmer for Bangor Parks and Recreation. “We only have 100 to give out and we already have 22 signed up.
“It’s quite comprehensive. That’s why I think it’s so great. You’re not just slapping up a lemonade stand. “
Kits will also be given out at Quirk Auto Park of Bangor in a couple weeks.
Hatch, who remembers his first taste of business, has had a lot of success as an entrepreneur, building a party planning and rental business with wife Kristen in Florida before moving back to their hometown. They’ve not only revived The Maine Jump, they’re planning to open a second facility in Presque Isle by October.
“I wish we had had something like this when I was a kid,” Hatch said. “I think the only thing we really had to learn about something like this was having a paper route. I learned a lot about customer service that way.
“Teaching kids to be entrepreneurs and responsible is a great thing.”