Pint-Sized Entrepreneur on Perfecting Her Pitch and Meeting Warren Buffett

by Susan Johnston on September 5, 2012

Making light-up holiday sweatshirts with her family sparked a business idea for 10-year-old Aria Eppinger. After it took her dad “forever” to finish soldering her creation, the pint-size entrepreneur from Pittsburgh wanted a quick, easy way to put an illuminated design on any garment.

Eppinger entered her idea for Shine So Bright, a kit that contains materials such as battery-powered wires and instructions for making light-up clothing crafts, in the Grow Your Own Business Challenge. After presenting her idea to Warren Buffett and a panel of judges in May, Eppinger won the $5,000 grand prize in the individual category. She was also the youngest finalist in this year’s competition.

This precocious fifth-grader recently took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to discuss her winning idea with the Intuit Small Business Blog.

ISBB: How did you come up with the concept for Shine So Bright?

Eppinger: When we were originally making light-up clothing with my family, we used soldering, and my mom and I thought there had to be a better way to do it. It was a bunch of little, easier things that we thought there could be, like conductive thread we found on the internet. I know I’ve seen cool little videos about how to make light-up crafts. There are other things that I thought would be cool to have in a kit.

How did you prepare to present in front of the judges?

I presented it [to] my family when I was just practicing, then I presented it with the older kids in my school. I was able to present it multiple times before I actually did it. Practice makes it a lot easier.

What was it like meeting Warren Buffett?

It was fun. He’s really funny and really nice.

Do you want to be like him when you’re older?

In kindness, yes. In wealth, no.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a math teacher. I like math, and I thought it would be fun to be a teacher. I may go into business when I grow up. Being a math teacher has been on my list ever since I was younger. Being in business is something that’s been added recently.

What did you learn about business from the competition?

I’ve learned so much, from how to market a product to why different things matter.

How do you plan to use the $5,000 you won in the contest?

It will only be about $3,500, because I am donating $1,500 to charities in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. I chose the Montessori program at my school, because they need money for supplies. I chose an animal shelter in my area. I chose a food bank, so it benefits the whole community.

I am doing the Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, so [I’m using some of the money to buy] supplies to test the products or other prototyping.

What do you see in the future for Shine So Bright? Will you sell the kits online or in stores?

I think I want to license it, so I can still be a kid. I would license it to an established company: If people already know their toys or kits or other products, it’s easier than building a business. It also gives the other company a chance to have another product.

Any advice for other kids who have an idea for a business?

Try your best no matter what. If you’re thinking about having a business, think about it from all angles. For instance, think about it from the perspective of a buyer. If you were to buy the product, how much would you pay? If you think there might be complications or any places where the product could be unsafe, then make it safer. Warren Buffett said to experiment and try it out when you’re younger, because it’s cheaper then.