Warren Buffett rewards young entrepreneurs

The 15 young entrepreneurs who got to present business ideas to billionaire Warren Buffett on Monday seemed nearly as excited to meet the investor as they were to learn who won the contest.

Of course it may have helped that Buffett surprised them by announcing plans to give all the finalists 10 Class B shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock, worth nearly $800, to go along with the prizes in the contest sponsored by

Five of the finalists also received $5,000 checks for winning grand prizes.

“I just thought it would be nice to make sure they all went home with something,” Buffett said. “They far exceeded my expectations, which were already high.”

Buffett said all the business ideas he saw Monday were better than he could have come up with at the same age. The five individual and three team finalists were between 7 and 16 years old.

A group of four boys from New York City won the team category with the supply and snack cart they created for their school. After posing for a picture with Buffett, the boys agreed they weren’t going to wash their hands again before getting home to New York because they’d just shaken hands with the billionaire.

“It’s really amazing. I think it’s going to be a life-changing experience,” said Lucien Mount.

Lucien and his 10-year-old teammates — Charles Cheng, Alejandro Astudillo and Nataniel Natanov — won $5,000 apiece for their idea. The boys created a mobile store that sold school supplies and snacks. The cart has raised more than $3,000 already to help restore arts programs in schools.

Buffett took part in the event because it’s associated with the “Secret Millionaire’s Club” cartoon that features an animated version of Berkshire’s chairman and CEO. Buffett’s supports the cartoon’s efforts to teach kids financial principles, such as avoiding debt, and he voices his own character. It appears on AOL sites online.

Aria Eppinger, from Pittsburg, Penn., won the individual competition with her idea for clothing with LED lighting. Eppinger said she learned a great deal from all of Buffett’s different quotes and sayings that appear in the cartoons.

Buffett said he enjoys spending time with students because it makes him optimistic about the United States. “You just saw a room with the future inside,” Buffett said after the awards were handed out. “You feel better about that future when you’ve interacted with it.”