PBS series features local business whiz kids
Seattle Times staff reporter
"Biz Kid$": 2 p.m. Sundays on KCTS's high-definition channel only. Episodes also streamed at www.bizkids.com.
Financially speaking, Mom, a part-time bookkeeper, and Dad, an architect, just didn't have the extra money to spend.
They could pay the private-school tuition for 11-year-old daughter Zoe. But if she wanted to join classmates on a school-sponsored study trip to Arizona, she'd have to come up with the $1,400 herself.
"She said, 'OK. Maybe I could earn the money,' " her mother, Julie Adberg, of Vashon Island, recalls. "And I thought, there's no way a kid could make that much, even if she asked all her relatives and her friends for help."
Oh, but Zoe did. Showing the sort of initiative Heidi Klum would admire, she proved Mom wrong.
The light bulb went off when she borrowed a friend's blue fleece cape for Halloween: Bet I could make this!
And so, after a trip to the library for some pattern books and a trip to a fabric store (with Mom's pocketbook), Zoe Adberg launched her "Fleece on Earth" clothing line.
Middle-school kids snatched up the capes, scarves and hats. Zoe made enough to pay for her trip. And she subsequently expanded her wares to include half- and full-size vintage-style aprons, setting up a booth at the island's farmers market. Friend Lili Stenn also joined her, selling her handmade "Flower Power" earrings.
Now a new nationwide public-TV series spotlights this sort of inventiveness by the MySpace/millennial generations. Called "Biz Kid$" and produced by the same Seattle-based team behind the Emmy-winning "Bill Nye The Science Guy," the show aims to teach youth financial literacy.
So the half-hour show (now airing on Seattle's KCTS high-def channel) delves into fundamentals such as saving, budgeting and investing; cash vs. credit; supply and demand; taxes; the myriad ways people "work." From its funky theme song to the wacky sketches, the tone is Nyesque, which is to say: hip, zany and smart.
The upcoming "Don't Blow Your Dough" (episode No. 11), for example, explores identity theft and phishing — cue the large fish hook — and ways to protect oneself.
And always, the focus is turning what could be a very dry topic — and a subject that's not always talked about — into something accessible and fun.
"Whenever I mention that I'm working on this show and it's about teaching kids to be good with money, the response is always, 'Man, I wish I had a show like that when I was growing up,' " says head writer John Keister, formerly of "Almost Live."
"It [money] is almost taboo. You're supposed to learn these things from your parents, but not everybody does," he continues. "On the show we're just trying to connect with a typical kid. Like, how to save for a bicycle. And we try to make compound interest interesting."
The "Biz Kid$" producers, who like to say they're in the "edutainment" field, had long wanted to create an educational financial-literacy TV show. Before becoming a TV producer, Jamie Hammond, the show's co-executive producer, studied finance and accounting and worked as a business manager.
Kids take the lead
As they did with the long-running and successful "Nye" series, the producers have paired the show with a companion curriculum, available free on www.bizkids.com. The show and curriculum are produced in association with Junior Achievement Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids work and business skills. It's being distributed by American Public Television, and major funding comes from America's Credit Unions.
But unlike in "Nye," it's kids who lead the instructing, serving as hosts as well as subjects. Many of the profiled kid entrepreneurs in the 26-episode series hail from Seattle and its environs. And their business ventures span the spectrum, from wickedly successful to just, well, quaint.
"We've got one kid who started selling DVDs on eBay and made a half-million dollars," Hammond says. "We've got the kid with the lemonade stand. And in between are the dog walkers and the kid running a candy store."
That candy store entrepreneur is 22-year-old Rebecca Charbonneau, who at age 5 opened a savings account. By the time she was 15, she had a couple thousand dollars she figured would go toward buying a car. But then she decided to invest her savings into opening a candy store, leasing a 1,000-square-foot space in Port Orchard's small retail core.
Mom, Dad and younger brother eventually joined in the venture, dubbed "The Candy Shoppe," which opened in 2001 and has sold enough licorice, fudge and gummy spiders to keep the shop self-supporting. Gross sales, according to Dad Steve Charbonneau, have increased 10 percent each year. And with the profits, Charbonneau did, in fact, buy herself a car.
A lifelong learning cycle
No detailed business plan is offered here (at least it wasn't in the episode that's been posted online). But even an adult who, oh, failed her Junior Achievement project and still can't balance her checkbook can't help but admire the ingenuity the series hails.
A Tacoma boy, for example, raised $80,000 to purchase rocking chairs for a local hospital. Yes, the show highlights how to make money, and it'll undoubtedly inspire a whole new crop of sewers and dog sitters. But it makes special note to highlight kid philanthropy, too.
Volunteering, the show points out, can indeed lead to material or financial rewards. An upcoming segment profiles 18-year-old Henry Spieker, of Seattle, who has been working at Columbia City's nonprofit Bike Works since he was 13.
"I took a beginning mechanics class to learn, and I did some community-service hours," Spieker says. That community service — helping repair bikes — translated into credit toward "purchasing" a bike, which he did, many times over.
The Aviation High School student, now a senior, continued in the "Earn-a-Bike" program, honing his mechanical skills and eventually landing a paying gig as a bike mechanic at REI.
All these years spent at Bike Works, which sells used bikes and offers affordable bike repairs, also taught him leadership as well as time-management skills. The kind of "life" tools one needs to get ahead, he says. And that's a return as valuable as a paycheck.
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company