Lemonade Day Teaches Youngsters About Entrepreneurship

by Susan Johnston on April 29, 2011

This Sunday, on May 1, tens of thousands of kids across the country will set up lemonade stands as part of Lemonade Day, a nationwide event designed to teach business basics like setting goals and developing a business plan.

We spoke to veteran entrepreneur and Lemonade Day founder Michael Holthouse about how this event impacts kids and communities.

ISBB: How’d you get bitten by the entrepreneur bug? Did you have a lemonade stand as a kid?

No, I grew up in rural Indiana. The street or dirt path that we lived on had about 10 cars per day, so there was no opportunity for me to have a lemonade stand. But I baled hay and did all kinds of early entrepreneurial things. Like with many entrepreneurs, my family was entrepreneurial. My family owned a chain of furniture stores. I grew up on a farm and worked in the warehouse, which gave me a very strong Midwestern work ethic. If I was going to have a car, I had to make my own money.

Why do you think lemonade stands have become such a strong symbol of early entrepreneurship?

A lemonade stand is iconic. It’s much like apple pie and baseball. It takes you back to a simpler time. When you go to someone and say, “We’re gonna teach kids about business through lemonade stands,” the first thing everybody does is smile and nod. They absolutely understand and identify with what you’re talking about. It’s so simple. It’s so understandable. Everybody likes lemonade.

When and how did you come up with the idea for Lemonade Day?

Five years ago, my then 10-year-old daughter named Lissa asked me if she could get a turtle, and I said no because she already had a bunch of pets. Sunday morning, Lissa comes bounding in, jumps on top of me says, “Daddy, let’s do a lemonade stand.” That day was one of the best days we had ever had together.

What I hadn’t realized that early in the morning was that there was a connection between the turtle and the lemonade stand. She was going to pay for it with this lemonade stand, so she became very interested in how lemonade stands work so she could get the turtle and all the accessories. We talked about how the ice chest is part of the capital of the corporation. It turned into a conversation on where would be the best location for a lemonade stand, the fact that we’re selling perishable goods and their fixed costs.

It was amazing to watch her transform. It really got me thinking, “How is it that I’m a reasonably accomplished entrepreneur and I’ve never taught my daughter how free enterprise works?” Since I sold my company, I’ve gotten really focused on at-risk kids and teaching entrepreneurship. I had this experience with Lissa and the lights just came on. This was a fun and experiential way to get kids engaged and show how they can achieve their own American Dream.

What do you hope to achieve through Lemonade Day?

Our goal is take Lemonade Day to 100 cities across America and do one million stands in a single day by 2013. We think every youth in America should know what entrepreneurship and free enterprise is all about, and it’s not being taught in schools.

Once they’ve done their lemonade stand and they’re standing there with a fistful of money, we encourage them to spend a little, save a little, and give a little back to the community. They decide who they’re going to give it to and how much, if any, they’ll give.

Last year in Houston alone, we had 38,000 lemonade stands. These kids sold $4.2 million worth of lemonade in a single day, and turned around and gave back over $1 million to homeless shelters, to their church group, their schools, and other charities.