For most 11-year-olds, their experience with entrepreneurship ends at the summertime lemonade stand.
But for Belle Pan, refreshing drinks and homemade cookies weren’t cutting it.
As the daughter of an entrepreneur, Pan could see that kids her age weren’t getting experience with real-world business situations, things that would help them build skills and get excited about entrepreneurship.
“It would be nice if kids could get exposure to these thing before they go to college,” she thought to herself at the time, when she was a sixth-grade student at Lakeside School in North Seattle.
At the same time, Lakeside was considering scaling back their annual fundraising rummage sale because its logistics were becoming too difficult to manage.
Bingo. Pan saw that these two problems could solve each other, with a little outside help.
“What if we did an OfferUp but for schools, where the items were donated so the money went to the school instead of the person selling the item,” said Pan, referring to the popular Bellevue-based marketplace for selling goods. This platform would give schools the tech infrastructure to run their own rummage sales, and the sales themselves would be managed by students, giving them experience in business.
Just like that, iRummage was born — a school fundraising platform and business education tool, which has grown and evolved over the past two years.
The Fast Pitch program is exclusively for innovations that address social needs, and consists of a series of pitch clinics that coach entrepreneurs on how to share their ideas.To get to the finals, innovators have made it through a series of prior contests, and have been coached by SVP staff.
Not that these activities have kept Pan from her normal schedule — in addition to being a full-time student and part-time CEO, Pan also plays the violin, sings in a school choir, and is training to be a coxswain on her rowing team. Check out her plans after winning the Fast Pitch semi-finals below:
The winners of Tuesday’s final are awarded a cash prize to continue developing their projects. And Pan has big plans for iRummage.
“One of the goals that we have is to train 100,000 10-year old CEOs,” Pan said. She also said the program could potentially raise $100 million for schools in Washington state alone.
But iRummage and its potential impact would never have happened if it weren’t for a chance encounter two years ago, when Pan tagged along with her father at a Startup Weekend event.
Sitting at the back of the crowd working on homework, Pan noticed another student around her age making a pitch. She realized that her great idea didn’t have to be just an idea: she could pitch it here, and maybe even make it a real program.
After some coaching and convincing from her father, IoT entrepreneur JT Pan, she pitched the idea, got together a team, and started work on a prototype.
“I built the app mockup, and for the sake of the presentation we ‘hacked’ OfferUp’s website,” Pan said, to show judges the intended UX.
Two days later, Pan and her team won third place at the event. They even won a spot at 9MileLabs, which they had to turn down as two of their members were still completing middle school.
Since then, Pan has been assisted in the project by fellow students, a 9MileLabs co-founder, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, and a myriad of entrepreneurs from the Seattle community.
This summer, the iRummage team finished the app’s UX design, and Pan said winning the Fast Pitch would help carry them into the next phase: active development. Here, the team will work out how to make the program best work for schools.
“It’s meant to be as painless as possible for the school,” Pan said.
“The general idea is that the school campaigns are run by the kids, and we structure the kids in a company format. So we have a school CEO, a school CTO, and a school CFO,” she said. These positions will be filled by older students, generally grades 5 and up.
There are also “iRummage ambassadors” that take on community outreach, gather donated items, help with the retail aspects of the sale. These students can be as young as first grade.
For now, all the money raised will go directly to the schools, although iRummage may need to take a small percentage in the future to cover growing operating costs.
And although the project is still in the early stages, Pan is thinking of the potential impact and, of course, the project’s scalability.
“The key idea is that both the iRummage HQ and each school chapter, or school iRummage practice, will be decentralized and be able to run by themselves,” JT Pan said, so as the program scales the team won’t need to grow dramatically.
For Belle Pan, that means she may be able to stay as CEO as the program grows. If it does become too much to manage while she is in school full-time, she said she would need to find someone who cares as deeply as she does about the project to take over.
But for now, Pan is right where she wants to be — at the helm of a startup, experiencing all the stresses and excitement that entrepreneurship brings.