Suzanne Perez Tobias

New children’s business fair is off limits to meddlesome moms and dads

It sounds like a lemonade stand on steroids.

On the last Saturday of June, more than 70 Wichita-area youngsters will sell their wares and test their entrepreneurial prowess at an event sponsored by Wonder, a new private school financed by members of the Koch family.

The Wichita Children’s Business Fair, a one-day marketplace for kids ages 6 to 12, is being modeled on similar events conducted by Acton Academy, a network of private schools in Austin, Denver, and elsewhere.

Young entrepreneurs create a product or service, build a marketing strategy, set up a booth and then open for customers during the public event — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 29 at Bradley Fair, in northeast Wichita.

“A couple people on our team are leading this up, and we’ve had a very high amount of interest in the idea,” said Zach Lahn, co-founder of Wonder, which opened in September on the Wichita State University campus.

“A lot of people in Wichita have been looking for something like this, so we’re glad we can bring it to the community.”

Lahn said most interest has come from outside the private school, spurred by recent promotions on social media. Only 10 of the 72-and-counting youngsters signed up to participate are Wonder students, he said. The deadline to apply is Monday.

Local kids plan to hawk all kinds of products, including handmade dresses, soap, slime kits, artistic photos, custom notebooks, homemade dog treats and snack foods such as brownie burgers and candy kabobs.

It’s a stellar idea that’s sure to take off in an entrepreneurial hotbed like Wichita.

But the best part of this fair won’t be the adorable products or the needed nudge to our city’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, which some say has been lagging for decades.

The best part is that, by design, these kid-powered businesses will be strictly off limits to meddlesome moms and dads.

Grownups are welcome to attend the fair and buy products, Lahn said. But parents won’t be allowed to help children plan, design, market or operate their businesses.

“Part of the application process is walking through all of those things: Who’s your target audience? What’s your unit cost?” Lahn said.

“There’s a $10 registration fee, and for that they even have to say (on the application) if they borrowed the money from their parents. If they do, what’s their plan to pay them back?”

In an era of rampant helicopter parenting, when rich parents are paying their progeny’s way in to elite universities, it’s refreshing to see an initiative that’s at least attempting to let kids struggle, learn, and make mistakes on their own — and then ultimately pocket their profits.

One requirement for a business to be accepted and to qualify for prizes — most business potential, best presentation, most original idea and more — is that parents can’t have a heavy hand in its creation or operation, Lahn said.

“The goal of the application isn’t to be perfect,” he said. “It’s just something that a child is really passionate about and engaged in. So if there are typos and those kinds of things, no problem. We want it to be authentic.”

If you think your child might be interested in participating, share this column with them. Direct them to the application on the event’s website: Then kindly step away and leave the rest — aside from maybe transportation and encouragement — to them.

I’ll get my wallet ready for shopping.

Suzanne Perez Tobias is a columnist and member of The Eagle’s editorial board. During her nearly 30 years at the newspaper, she has covered breaking news, education, local government and other topics. An avid reader, Suzanne also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.