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How a 16-Year-Old Entrepreneur Got the Capital to Grow a Successful Business

Photo: Courtesy of Versano Photography

In business, you need capital to not only start, but also to grow your business. The challenge is that women entrepreneurs at every stage are statistically less likely to get access to the capital they need. They also tend to not seek out investor money and are much more conservative when valuing their businesses. 

Still, that hasn’t stopped the next generation of women business owners from starting new enterprises and growing them to impressive levels — even with minimal capital and during a worldwide health and economic crisis. It just takes a little more ingenuity and tenacity than perhaps has been required in the past. 

Anna Welsh of littlebags.bigimpact is one of these unstoppable young entrepreneurs. She launched her socially conscious handbag business four years ago when she was just 12 years old. At the time, she used $50 of her own savings and another $300 from her parents to create her first clutch purse made from recycled materials. When she needed capital to take it a step further, she was fortunate enough to connect with Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Philadelphia.

Through this program, Welsh was able to receive a $1,000 start-up investment. “That was the only time I’ve accessed capital to this day,” she shared. “I ended up selling more than 1,000 bags that year and only projected 96 in my plan. Being in sixth grade at the time, I had never really experienced first-hand how capital can propel your business growth.”

Also key to Welsh’s growth have been business mentors who have connected her with other professionals like accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents. This circle of support has helped her to break down costs, from marketing and production to packaging and shipping, to really understand how these impacted her bottom line and then to save by negotiating and buying bulk and wholesale.Her mentors also gave Welsh great advice for her socially conscious business model. She originally wanted to donate 50 percent of business proceeds to empower education in socially disadvantaged communities, and they advised her to go with 15 percent. “That’s really allowed me to grow exponentially,” she says. “I’ve learned that you can still have a big impact while investing in growing your company.”

While some might think Welsh’s young age presents unique challenges, she sees it as an advantage. “When I was walking in at 12, I was afraid to ask for advice related to money and capital, but given how welcoming and interested the investment community was — and has been — in listening to the ideas the next generation has to bring to the table, I feel like I’ve really been given access that older entrepreneurs wouldn’t have.”

Now, Welsh is the one giving advice. As a NAWBO NextGen member, she has spoken for the past two years at the organization’s NextGen Conference Track designed to develop curiosity, confidence and mindset in enterprising young women who are college or post-college age or high school age with an established business.

Meanwhile, with 40-plus events cancelled over the past year, Welsh has pivoted to focus on growing her business through online sales, wholesale, corporate gifts, and subscription gift boxes. She is also developing the relationships she’ll need to access capital when she needs it. “At some point, I’ll need capital to keep up with the growth and the passion I have for giving back,” she said.

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