Superhero kids of STEM: Meet Maya Penn

By: Kendall Lee
A 16-year-old fashion entrepreneur and author shares how she inspires.

In this multi-part series, we’ve asked young inventors under the age of 21 to tell their stories of what inspired them to start creating, how they found success and what they hope for the future.

Who: Maya Penn, 16, from Atlanta, Georgia

My innovation: When I was 8, I started an eco-friendly clothing company, Maya’s Ideas, which sells bags, scarves and jewelry. A portion of the sales proceeds go to environmental charities. Since a lot of people ask me how I got my start, I recently wrote the book, “You Got This: Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path and Change Your World”, to inspire people to follow their passion.

My origin story: I’ve always been into art and design, including fashion design. I started my business out of curiosity and as a creative outlet.

I was raised by my parents to be socially aware. Some of my earliest memories are of me going to local food banks, donating and giving back. I wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the world and on the environment. It’s why all of my clothing and accessories are made from organic and recycled materials, and 10 to 20 percent of the profits are donated to charities and environmental nonprofits.

My parents are both musicians, and I happen to be a visual artist. I love to draw and animate, and do fashion design.

Bringing my idea to life: For my clothing, I always start with a prototype. I now have a lot of help — 10 employees — but I like to make the prototypes myself.

My dad is into technology and now has his own tech company. When I was 4 years old, he showed me how to take apart a computer and put it back together again. That's how I discovered I’m really into technology as well. I got interested in coding and more specifically HTML, which I used to build my first website.

What I’m doing now: It’s amazing how much the business has grown since it was just me as an 8-year-old kid. I have customers around the globe, and I get so many comments and messages from teens who want to start their own businesses. They want to give back to their community doing something they love. It’s so cool. I get opportunities to speak to youth about STEM, technology, entrepreneurship and all these things I’m really passionate about. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to give TED Talks and speak at events like the Verizon Innovative Learning app challenge dinner. I'm now the youngest member of Oprah's Supersoul 100, a list of influencers and change-makers. I’m so glad I’ve been given a platform to inspire other people.

I get a lot of questions every day like, “I have a lot of ideas, but how do I start? Where do I start? What resources can I have access to?” That’s the reason I wrote “You Got This.” It talks about what I’m passionate about as well how you can tap into your passion.

My advice for kids who want to start their own business is to do a lot of research about your field of interest. Also, write down your ideas as often as you have them. It’s important for you to think about your ideas and how you can grow them into something new.

We need more: Young people pursuing their passions early and giving back, and making a positive impact on the world.

Why we need more: Believing you can change things is the only way to make it happen. My parents have always instilled positivity and a “you can do anything”-type of attitude. Even when it seems like things might not work out, they always do if you keep pushing forward.

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About the author(s): 

Kendall Lee is a senior manager in the Verizon Foundation.