Does the Sage of Omaha have a sweet tooth? An 11-year-old Howard County student is on a mission to find out.
Krissa Hillman, the budding entrepreneur behind Cupcakes for Literacy, is a finalist in Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaires Club’s Learn and Earn, Grow Your Own Business Challenge. She will travel to Omaha, Nebraska this weekend to present her business plan to Buffet and other investors for a chance to win $5,000 in seed funding.
Krissa, a fifth-grader at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, was chosen from among over 4,000 other children with business plans. Cupcakes for Literacy is a spin-off of the website her mother started six years ago that catalogs YouTube videos of Krissa reading books to children. Since February, Krissa and her board of classmates regularly bake and sell cupcakes to raise funds for schools, libraries and literacy, art and music programs.
Armed with a pan of red velvet cupcakes (topped with bright blue frosting and candies), she did a practice run-through of her presentation at Howard County’s Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, in conjunction with Startup Maryland, in Columbia on Friday.
“Everybody loves cupcakes, right? If you don’t love cupcakes, you must be crazy,” Krissa said, drawing laughs from the center’s panel of entrepreneurial advisors.
She detailed how literacy decreases poverty and child exploitation, and explained the great need for funding for youth reading programs. Eventually, she hopes to raise enough money to bake in a commercial kitchen and develop more educational and governmental partnerships.
“When people know you’re selling cupcakes for a good cause, they’ll want to give more. It makes selling and buying cupcakes irresistible,” she said.
The center’s panel praised her altruistic business plan and calm demeanor. Their advice: keep your feet planted while you speak to the audience, speak up and smile. They also suggested she imagine Buffet as a “nice grandpa.”
“At first I was a little shaky, moving around too much, but then I got the flow of it, felt calmer and less nervous, and now I feel fine, like I can do it again,” Krissa said. “Not everyone gets the chance to do this, and out of 4,000 people, I figured it was a one-in-a-billion chance because people have so many great ideas. The fact that he picked mine just touches my heart.”
Julie Lenzer Kirk, co-chair of Startup Maryland and executive director for the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, personally coached Krissa in advance of the presentation.
“Our role is to steer entrepreneurs in the right direction, but also give them what they need to sustain a business. With Krissa, we want to give her all the support she needs and let her know that we will be there for her every step of the way,” Kirk said.
Krissa was named the youngest-ever affiliate of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman also presented her an award and named May 17 “Cupcakes for Literacy Day.”
Krissa said she’s already caught the entrepreneurial bug.
“Before this started, I wanted to be a teacher because I love teaching, I love reading, but now I think I’m going to be an entrepreneur for life, and just keep teaching and keep helping everyone out,” she said.
She also added some advice for fellow business owners: “Giving back to society is one of the things that a business needs if it wants to succeed, because people need to know that you’re doing it for them. Then they’ll want to give more and more and more, and they’ll want to put money into it to help you out.”