By Annu Ross
Communications project manager and writer for YPO.
Some of the most inspiring speakers to grace the stage at YPO’s flagship event, YPO EDGE, were entrepreneurs under the age of 16. They started businesses and nonprofits as young as age 4 and continue to focus their efforts on empowering other youth to become entrepreneurs or change the world. We caught up with four of the youngest EDGE speakers from the past few years to hear what they have been doing since they shared their stories with YPO.
In 2011, Talia Leman (then 16) spoke at the Global Leadership Summit (now YPO EDGE) in Denver, Colorado, USA, about her young entrepreneurial spirit and the impact kids can make in the world.
Leman, now 20 and studying at Stanford University, is co-founder and key advisor forRandomKid, which helps children with innovative social change ideas take their projects to the next level. Founded in 2005, RandomKid has worked with more than 12 million youth from 20 countries to provide aid on four continents, helping to raise more than USD12 million.
Speaking at the Summit made Leman a sought-after resource. She booked more than 300 speaking engagements as a result of her address in Denver.
“The opportunity to speak at YPO’s event helped expand my work and extend my reach,” says Leman.
Inspired by YPO members’ reach and impact, she launched a new project with RandomKid called the “IS Prize.”
“After speaking at the YPO event and meeting members, she wanted to start funding projects that have long-term goals that are game-changing,” says Dana Leman, Talia’s mother.
The new project aims to match investors with anybody under age 25 who comes up with a game-changing solution to a global problem. The IS Prize focuses on one specific problem at a time and looks for innovative solutions that are effective, easy to replicate and cost-effective. The current problem under consideration is how to effectively address mental health among youth so that they self-identify and seek the help they need.
Joshua Williams was only 9 when he spoke alongside Leman at the 2011 event.
Now 14, Williams founded Joshua’s Heart Foundation in 2005 to help combat hunger and empower youth to make an impact in the world.
He also received multiple speaking opportunities and partnered with YPO and WPO chapters in South Florida, USA, to collect and distribute more than 66,000 pounds of food to people in need.
“It was the largest crowd I’d ever spoken to at the time,” says Williams. “It was a unique experience sharing the stage with so many amazing people. It showed me how far we had gone and how far we could go.”
Since its founding, Joshua’s Heart Foundation has given out 1.1 million pounds of food to families in South Florida, Jamaica, Haiti, Africa and India, and raised more than USD500,000 with the help of more than 6,600 young volunteers called “elves.”
Williams has since spoken to many more large live audiences, given two TEDx talks, and participated in an anti-hunger media campaign with actor Josh Duhamel called #shareameal and participated in a documentary called “The Way Kids See It” with Unilever Bright Future. He is a spokesperson for Unilever, and a CNN Heroes Young Wonder.
At age 15, Felix Finkbeiner addressed the YPO audience at the 2012 Global Leadership Summit in Singapore. He spoke about Plant-for-the-Planet, a nonprofit he started in 2007 to fight the climate crisis by planting trees around the world.
“In our fight for our future, we children and youth need the support of leaders,” says Finkbeiner, now 18. “I am grateful for the chance to address so many leaders in Singapore. I felt that the YPO members present were ready to not only lend us their ears but also their support.”
Through the efforts of Plant-for-the-Planet, more than 14 billion trees have been planted and 36,000 children between the ages of 9-12 have engaged in their global movement as Climate Justice Ambassadors. The organization also initiated a study of global deforestation carried out by Yale and published in the journal Nature. The study found that 9.5 billion trees are lost each year due to deforestation which has led Finkbeiner and Plant-for-the-Planet to set a new tree-planting goal.
“Today we are calling on companies, organizations, governments and wealthy individuals to plant a billion trees so that, together, we can reach one trillion trees by 2020,” says Finkbeiner. “These trees would absorb a quarter of the human-made CO2-emissions.”
Today, Finkbeiner oversees his nonprofit and studies international relations in London.
Yash Semlani, co-founder of Make a Difference Entrepreneurs (MADE), made a splash at the 2015 YPO EDGE in Melbourne, Australia.
“Speaking at the EDGE conference was an amazing experience for an 8-year-old,” says Semlani, now 9. “The organizers and attendees were very encouraging and supportive. I understood the importance of doing things at scale.”
Since the EDGE, other than school, sports and cub scouts, Semlani has been building the MADE platform to empower kids to learn business skills not taught in school and the importance of giving back to the community. He launched a video series on kid entrepreneurship called Get MADE in June 2015 at FAO Schwarz in New York, USA. He is in discussion with several television networks for season two of his Get MADE series. To fulfill the second goal of MADE, get interactive, Semlani is developing virtual “quests” to teach kids about business fundamentals and entrepreneurship in a fun and interactive way.
To highlight the importance of giving back, he started the Undercover Elves initiative, raising money to perform random acts of kindness for needy people in the Houston community during the 2015 holiday season. So far, he has inspired five of his young entrepreneur peers to match his contribution from their own business profits and collected a total of USD2,500. He has also enlisted the help of adults (Undercover Santas) in this plan.
Semlani was honored with Houston Business Journal’s inaugural Two Under 20 Award, created in 2015 as a special recognition within their annual 40 Under 40 Awards.