Author: Erika O'Shea
Published: Thursday, 19 Mar 2020
Kansas City has developed a reputation for being an entrepreneurial hub in the Midwest. Walt Disney, Henry Bloch, Kate Spade, and a collection of other recognizable names all have strong ties to our cowtown. One person you might not have heard of yet is a recent entrant onto the startup scene: Mona Hurst. Watch out though…this 4th grader is going places.
In many ways, Mona is just like any other elementary student. She loves animals, is an avid artist, and maintains a respectful distrust of vegetables. She balances a rigorous educational program at Academie Lafayette with basketball practice, playtime with friends, and family obligations. However, as of last summer her resume includes “Small Business Owner.” In 2019, Mona participated in a JA program that inspired her to explore different ways she could start a business.
Her mother and her Girl Scout leader led their group through the JA Our City 3rd grade curriculum, which introduces students to money management and the importance of economic exchange within a city. Mona enjoyed learning how different positions work together to help a company run. “We talked about running a business, and different roles you can have like manager or treasurer. Treasurers manage all the money.” One activity that fused creativity with practicality stuck out in her mind. “We made mini buildings of businesses and got to draw them. Then we made a little town!”
Before the program, Mona wanted to be a Speech Therapist like her mother. She liked the idea of helping kids learn how to talk. That career path is still on the table, but after exposure to the idea of owning her own business, Mona decided to see how entrepreneurship suited her. After mulling over her options, Mona decided to transform her passion for animals and existing skill-set as a dog owner into a summer job. “I started a dog walking business!” She elaborated on how she recruited a team, identified her ideal customer, and set up a marketing and communications plan, “I asked my next-door neighbors for help. Then we made posters and put them in everybody’s mailbox on our block that we knew had dogs.”
Mona also reached out for valuable business mentorship from her father, Eric Hurst. Eric is a local producer and voice actor. He reviewed his daughter’s business plan and gave her feedback that she might want to do some market research to see if her pricing structure was sound. Mona ventured into her neighborhood to see what people were willing to pay for her service. “We went and asked people who were walking their dogs how much they would pay someone to do that. They said $10 - $15 per dog per walk!” Mona giggled as she revealed her original starting price, “I was only going to charge $1 per walk!”
Unfortunately, like many nascent businesses, Mona encountered difficulties in scheduling and seasonality. Vacation schedules and an early drop in temperatures caused Mona to wrap up the venture. However, she isn’t letting a small stumble keep her from trying to make her dream a success in the future. “It didn’t work out, but I’ll probably try it again this summer.” Mona has a few tweaks she’s planning if the idea really takes off. “I might split it into different businesses, one for small dogs and one for big dogs. If I get busy, I could also hire more people to help me.” When asked what the hardest part of the whole journey was, she pointed to the total responsibility she had as a founder, “I had to figure out ALL the problems.”
As an outsider, Eric, Mona’s dad, was blown away by his daughter’s resourcefulness and creativity after her JA experience. “What I was most impressed by was how she conceived of the idea and just thought, ‘I can do this!’ She went out and recruited our next-door neighbors and they made every single poster by hand, rather than photocopying.” Eric appreciated how his daughter identified the strength of working in a team by adding, “she recognized she didn’t have to do it on her own. She could multiply her efforts by getting other people involved.”
Even though her Dog-Walking business is on hiatus until better weather, Mona hasn’t stopped investigating other side-hustles. “I’ve auditioned to narrate commercials, my friends and I did a podcast about Paris, and last weekend I tried selling candy and jokes in my neighborhood since it was a warm day!” She is also looking towards her future as an adult. Speaking on the most intimidating and exciting parts of being grown up, Mona said, “You have to pay bills, but you get to do more kinds of fun stuff.” For the most part, she is taking things one year at a time. “The best part about this year is that I get to switch around classes.” The next big step as a student will soon arrive though, “You get lockers in the 5th grade!” Eric is excited to see what his daughter’s future holds. “As parents, we thought JA was so great for our son and daughter. Especially for Mona, being a little girl and seeing that she can start, own, and run a business. It makes me really happy that it’s completely second nature to her now.”