Nine years ago, Acton Academy (a network of charter schools) hosted its very first Children’s Business Fair in Austin, Texas. Despite having only a handful of businesses and attendees, the first fair was a small sensation and the program grew rapidly.

As the Austin fair achieved extraordinary success — even launching the careers of some young entrepreneurs — Acton decided to franchise the idea to other groups across the country. Today, Children’s Business Fairs are operating or planned in 25 cities across the country (and one in Guatemala).

One of those fairs took place in Detroit on Oct. 15, co-hosted by the Mackinac Center and Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan, two organizations that share an interest in the values of education and entrepreneurship. Like the first Austin fair, the Detroit Children’s Business Fair was small but full of energy.

A total of 11 businesses participated, run by 26 children between the ages of 6 and 14. They sold everything from coffee and chocolate to hanging herb gardens and handmade jewelry and accessories.

At first blush, the fair was simply adorable — a collection of kids suited up in blazers, doing their best impersonations of businesspeople. But Children’s Business Fairs have not been successful merely because they provide a photo opportunity. The participants in Detroit had great things to say about the value of the products and services they sold, and the importance of entrepreneurship. The future of the country, state of Michigan and the city of Detroit is uncertain, but the enthusiasm and exuberance of these budding entrepreneurs made all attendees and customers optimistic.

Besides giving children a venue for selling their goods and services to the public in a safe environment, the Children’s Business Fair model provides participants with opportunities for competition and constructive feedback. This year, we handed out three prizes of $50 to exceptional businesses.

KahMora Kennedy created her business, KahMora’s Empire, as a way of helping her classmates learn English through bilingual comic books. She showed her prototypes at the fair and sold pencils and stationary products to her customers. Her energy earned her the award for originality.

Jet Fast was started by Jadeb, Alex, Emilio and Cristian, a group of boys from Escuela Avancemos! Academy, a Detroit charter school. In keeping with their class's mission of sustainability and community giving, the boys sold toy cars they made out of recycled materials and pledged to donate half their profits to buy toys for children with cancer. They received the award for creativity and presentation.

The final award, for most business potential, went to the Hydroflower Garden, which sold tiered hanging gardens made of recycled pop bottles. Created by Alessandra, Ismael and Yalitsa, also from Escuela Avancemos!, the business donated some of its food-growing products to homeless shelters to feed the hungry.

Both the Mackinac Center and Junior Achievement contributed judges, and we were honored to welcome several other local leaders and entrepreneurs to the panel. Tracy Garley, owner of Zarkpa’s Purses and Accessories and the featured subject in a recent “Working in Detroit” video, was a judge. So were Markuis Cartwright and Howard Williams, high school entrepreneurs and co-founders of Believe it Can Be, which funds urban gardens to feed the homeless in Detroit.

The first Detroit Children’s Business Fair was small, but burst with optimism and inspiration — so much so that we couldn’t wait a year to have another one! We are excited to announce a second fair coming this spring. In the meantime, photos and information can be found at detroitchildrensbusinessfair.org.