ANCHORAGE — If there was one product that was readily available in Anchorage on May 1, it was lemonade.
All over town, kids could be found selling cups of the sweet concoction, whether it was in front of the Sullivan Arena, in the middle of downtown or, in a few cases, at the local zoo.
This wasn’t your grandma’s lemonade stand: these were miniature business ventures, with business plans and budgets, and investors they were expected to pay back with their earnings.
The kids were all participants in Lemonade Day, the local arm of a national effort to inspire an entrepreneurial spirit in young people by having them set up lemonade stands all over the city.
This year was the first time Alaska has participated in the event.
Caleb Bell, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, had his stand set up at a prime spot that sunny Sunday afternoon: right outside of Sullivan Arena, where 2,270 University of Alaska Anchorage graduates would soon descend upon the arena to participate in the school’s commencement ceremony.
Over the month-and-a-half leading up to May 1, Bell worked on his business plan along with business partners Kadin Feldis, 11, Orion Roach, 11, and Sam Joling, 11.
Bell’s mom let him borrow $100 for the venture, and he was required to pay her back after the event. A portion of his net profits would be donated to a charity, with the rest being split among the kids evenly. A tip jar was set up to benefit recovery efforts in Japan.
His recipe wasn’t complicated: a bit of Country Time dry mix with water, along with some real lemons. But for the pink lemonade option had a secret ingredient: a touch of Kool-Aid.
“(It’s) all natural — kinda,” he said.
Ultimately, the kids planned on making $1,500.
Roughly 1,100 stands in Anchorage were registered for the event, said Christi Bell, Caleb Bell’s mother and director of the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, which collaborated with the UAA College of Business and Public Policy to put on the event.
After registering for the program, kids and their parents (or other adult helpers) picked up backpacks that contained how-to guides and other materials with instructions on building a business plan, among other aspects of entrepreneurship.
Securing an investment — which the young business person would be required to pay back — is also a part of the educational experience, Christi Bell said, so parents were encouraged not to simply fork over some money without strings attached.
“They’re robbing their youth of an opportunity by just saying, ‘Hey, this is really fun, here’s $20 or $40 to go start up your lemonade stand,’” she said.
In most cases, the person making the investment is also the parent or other adult who registered with the child. But some youth actually approached businesses for an investment, she said.
Sharing with the community was also part of the experience. Many of the participants took that message to heart, declaring a portion of their earnings would go to various charities.
Lemonade Day was started by entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Holthouse in 2007 in Houston, Texas. It has since spread across many other cities, and Holthouse’s near-term goal is to see 1 million stands set up in 100 cities.
The business plans aren’t especially elaborate much of the time, Bell said, but the program does have kids thinking about critical business concepts, including differentiating their offerings from other stands to compete in the market.
“I know of a group out in Eagle River that has been test running their lemonade stand every day after school for the last two weeks,” she said a few days before the event. “They’ve decided that pink lemonade sells stronger than classic lemonade.”
One stand, set up in the Sugarspoon desert and coffee restaurant downtown, opted for organic and natural ingredients.
Another, set up just outside the Alaska Zoo, featured lemonade with sparkling water added for a slight fizz.
Siblings Kayla and Patrick Howell, 10 and 7, had a stand set up in a downtown Anchorage park near the Egan Civic and Convention Center, said they expected to make $110 at the end of the day.
Among the lessons they learned from the experience: “That working at a business is fun,” Kayla said.
Their mother, Monique Howell, who works at a nearby bakery, said she liked the fact that the program allows the kids to build something on their own, with limited involvement from mom and dad.
The kids also are becoming excited about entrepreneurship, the parents said.
“(Kayla’s) already on it now, trying to come up with other ideas,” said father Luke Howell, a former Marine and current full-time college student.
“It helps to have incentives,” Monique added. “She wants something. Instead of (us) just going out and buying it for her, (she has to) figure out to earn money and save the money.”
“(Lemonade Day is) teaching capitalism and entrepreneurship in its purest form,” said Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., one of several supporters bussed around to various lemonade stands May 1.
AEDC was a community partner in the event, and Popp said it would help with the effort again in the future.
“When you start young, you’re building a cadre of risk-takers and future movers and shakers,” he said.