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Mother-daughter entrepreneur duo spurs ‘Dream Builder Junior’ event


Seven-year-old Arden Wong Fortney’s interest in selling kids’ items at her mom’s salon has inspired Des Moines entrepreneur China Wong to help develop and fund an event to give more kids a chance to learn about launching a business. 

Wong, Arden’s mom and owner of Salon Spa W in the East Village, brought the idea for a “Dream Builder Junior” business workshop and pitch event for kids ages 7-12 to Megan Milligan, president and CEO of the Iowa Center for Economic Success. Wong and her daughter have committed to provide $1,000 for a forgivable loan to one winning participant to help her or him fund a business startup. 

Half of the sale proceeds from a holiday line of gifts hand-selected by Arden will go toward the loan fund, while the other half will go to the 7-year-old’s college savings fund. The items — a variety of jewelry, hair accessories, toys, hats and other fun stuff curated by Arden — will be sold at Salon Spa W, 400 E. Locust St., through Dec. 23. 

During a Jan. 25 event at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, up to 25 participating kids will compete for a chance to win the $1,000 loan. The loan will be forgivable, contingent upon the winner following through in pursuing the business plan they create. 

The idea for a Dream Builder Jr. event emerged when Wong took Arden with her on a pre-holiday buying trip to the Dallas Market Center, a huge wholesale market in Dallas, Texas. 

“To my surprise, [Arden] was incredibly engaged in the process and interested in business basics — from managing inventory and cost of goods sold, to marketing and promotion,” Wong said. “We were not originally planning to have kids’ products as part of our holiday offering, but I thought, why not?”  

Wong said she plans to back-stop the $1,000 regardless of how much is raised from sales of her daughter’s line of merchandise, but she feels confident that Arden will surpass her goal. 

Salon Spa W had launched a similar microloan program to support female entrepreneurs with the Iowa Center for Economic Success. Milligan was enthusiastic about the idea for extending the program to kids. 

“We were thrilled to hear from China about this idea and incredibly inspired by Arden’s entrepreneurial spirit,” Milligan said. “We have a great deal of experience in providing microlending, education and networking opportunities to support the success of small businesses — with a particular focus on women-, minority-, disabled- and veteran-owned businesses. So the idea of offering support to the next generation of entrepreneurs and giving them the support they need at a young age to pursue their passions is really exciting for us.”

The new program will take participants ages 7-12 through a three-hour working session where they will learn the ins and outs of starting a business. From there, they can decide if they want to put together a pitch at a chance to get the microloan funding. If it’s successful, the event could be a model for an annual program, Milligan said. 

Wong said she believes that kids should have “skin in the game” when it comes to the things they want. 

“Arden has done the marketing, some sales and is helping with inventory management and product re-ordering,” she said. “She knows that the more she sells, the more everyone wins — she funds her education and helps another kid’s dream too.

The “Dream Builder Jr.” workshop will take place on Jan. 25, 2020, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Iowa Center; 8345 University Blvd., Suite F, in Clive. Registration is limited to 25 kids ages 7-12. For more information or to register for the workshop, visit theiowacenter.org/DreambuilderJrThere is a $20 registration fee, which will be used to fund a second microloan.

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