Mixing Business and Play: Professor Silvia Pulino Presents KidsUP!

We’re happy to report that in the Centro of Rome, Italy, the holiday spirit and entrepreneurial spirit are alive and well, in tandem, among a go-getter bunch that call themselves “‘The Crazy Bears’… because we’re crazy!” says Tobia. They’re also smart, savvy, successful businessmen. And they’re 10 years old.

Daniele, Edoardo, Federico, Michele, Tiziano, and Tobia are young entrepreneurs in KidsUP! Under the tutelage of Silvia Pulino, Director of John Cabot’s Institute for Entrepreneurship and Professor of Business Administration, they’ve created their own company, starting with an idea and developing it through design, production, marketing, and sales. Last year, they earned a gratifying 300% return on their unique Christmas products.

For Professor Pulino, working with KidsUP! “is a way of stoking up the fire and nurturing their enthusiasm so that they never lose it. As a mother, I have witnessed the explosive power of children’s creativity and master of play. By the time they get to me as young adults, though, the courage to dream and experiment appears largely buried.”

KidsUp-1The Crazy Bears learn the basic principles of what she teaches at the university. This year, with experience under their belts, the boys confidently worked through their value proposition and the value chain for producing decorations made from recycled products—bringing new life to ribbons, seashells, and pinecones that had been set aside. “Knowing these things are recycled gives them added value to adults,” they say.

The cost of the decorations, five euros apiece, was carefully arrived at. “People might see our well-made, well-packaged product, and say ‘Wow!’” says Edoardo, “but we decided that at six euros they’d cost too much and parents would buy less.”

A “brilliant intuition,” says Professor Pulino, “which allows me to talk to them about the economic concept of the demand curve, namely the relationship between the quantity demanded of a given good and its price. Explained in simple terms, of course, but it seems incredible to me how easily they absorb a concept that many 20-year-olds are struggling to assimilate.”

KidsUp-5What’s striking about the Crazy Bears is how seamlessly they incorporate business and play; “Impresa per Gioco” in fact, is their tagline. I can’t help but wonder how this ability, so hard for adults to achieve, plays into their success.

The production and packaging session, for example, includes the singing of a motivational song, “Amico è,” or “[The] Friend is….” Friendship, Daniele explains, is important, “because if you work together well, you’ll be more productive.”

There’s also a lot of talk about values, including listening, respect, humility, cooperation, and perseverance. “You have to earn your profit,” Professor Pulino reminds them. (There’s more about the principles she teaches both children and their parents, such as the importance of “productive failure,” on the KidsUP! blog.)

As part of their research, which included gaining visual ideas from Pinterest, the boys were tasked with seeking out the best suppliers. To keep production costs down, they asked for—and received—vendor discounts on the bags used for packaging.

One of the last things to go in is a leaflet about the Crazy Bears, their company, and how they put into their product “the spirit of initiative, teamwork, patience, and perseverance.” Oh, and their self-designed logo, of course—importantissimo for people to know us and our story!”

The Crazy Bears logo

The logo, conceived of by the Crazy Bears, was designed by Sabrina Schmidt

It’s an exhausting but rewarding evening for Professor Pulino. “Keeping a bunch of ten-year-olds interested for two hours on a Friday after eight hours in school requires cutting all the inessentials and focusing on relevance,” she says—which, in turn, has enhanced her university teaching: “It keeps you honest, and it translates well into a formal classroom; students learn to trust you and then … magic happens!”

The Crazy Bears are set for their own magic this year, with plenty of advance orders secured. But they’re looking further down the road, too. Before KidsUP!, their dreams included one day becoming an architect, an artist, a footballer, a politician, and a musician.  To a boy, they now want to go on to careers of entrepreneurship. Though, says Eduardo, he may still become a famous guitarist.