The youngest client in WomenVenture’s 38-year history—Madi Lommen of Madibanani Bread Company—recently graduated from high school. As Madi heads to Ecuador this summer to spend a bridge year as a Global Citizen, and then to Yale National University of Singapore next spring to study ethics and global leadership, her mom, Michelle Ewald, shared key factors that led to Madi’s success as a fledgling social entrepreneur.
Madi wasn’t old enough for a driver’s license when she walked through WomenVenture’s doors seeking financing for her banana bread business, but her entrepreneurial spirit was evident to everyone who met her. She shared a vision for a company with a mission to bring social justice to children of the world—a dream she will continue to pursue through her service work and studies abroad. But what made Madi different than other teens?
Young people are entrepreneurial by nature. Children are excited to learn about money and easily understand the concepts of earning, spending, saving and—in Madi’s case—investing in the greater good. The key to molding kids like Madi into enterprising adults is helping them find their passion, fostering their inherent creativity, encouraging them to follow their dreams, and teaching them the value of hard work and perseverance. That is exactly what Madi’s mom, Michelle, did.
Madi was a freshman in high school when she was given the opportunity to take what would be a life-changing service trip to Thailand to work with orphaned refugee children. “She had to earn her own way,” Michelle said. “And she loved to bake banana bread, so she decided that was how she would raise the money for the trip.”
For two months, Madi sold her bread to friends and family members and raised enough money for the trip, but that was just the beginning. While in Thailand, Madi and five of her classmates decided they would continue raising money—$10,000, to be exact—to complete construction of an unfinished building meant to be housing for the orphans. “I decided I was going to launch Madibanani Bread Company to do my part as soon as I got back to Minnesota,” Madi said.
Michelle encouraged Madi to create a business plan and a mission statement for her company. While some parents may have been inclined to step in and do the work, Michelle believed the lessons were Madi’s to learn. “It’s hard to stand by and not do it for your child,” Michelle said. “But I had to let her figure it out for herself, so the business could truly be hers.”
Creating a mission statement came easy for Madi: “Delicious bread baked by a teenager dedicated to bringing social justice to children around the world.” But she quickly discovered how difficult it was for an underage entrepreneur to secure financing for a small business. It was impossible to find a bank that would give a loan to a minor, and even if she had been old enough to apply, Madi would have discovered a cold, hard truth: Women entrepreneurs in the U.S. receive only 4 percent of bank capital.
Though other kids her age may have been discouraged by such an obstacle, Madi was not about to give up on her dream. She was referred to WomenVenture through a family friend and met with a consultant who reviewed her business plan and helped her apply for a microgrant. Her persistence paid off—Madi received notice on her Sweet 16 that she had been awarded a grant to help cover the costs of leasing a commercial kitchen and insurance.
The resources she received were just a small part of building a successful business; the rest was up to Madi. She invested many hours of time after school and extracurricular activities, sometimes baking bread late into the evening to fulfill orders. And whenever she felt overwhelmed, she thought about her friends at the Children of the Forest Orphanage, 8,000 miles across the world, whose lives she hoped to make better.
After Madi and her classmates raised the money to complete the construction project in Thailand, sales for Madibanani Bread continued to grow. In addition to a steady stream of website orders, Madi began receiving requests to cater larger events. She continued sending 50 percent of her profits to the orphanage and added another organization to the company’s list of beneficiaries—the Mamelodi Initiative in South Africa.
Madi says she will continue to seek other opportunities to help children around the world because she believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive. As she begins the next chapter of her life exploring other parts of the world, she will enlist the help of family and friends to manage her banana bread business back in Minnesota. Madi plans to continue to use Madibanani Bread Company as a vehicle for social entrepreneurship and she sees it continuing to evolve.
Michelle tells the parents of entrepreneurial children like Madi, “Expose them to and allow them to try lots of things, and take ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of your vernacular.” She could not be prouder of her daughter’s accomplishments and looks forward to seeing what Madi does next. Madi’s team of WomenVenture supporters do, too.