DAVIDSON – Jake Johnson, 14, is redefining the gentleman and what it means to be a young entrepreneur.
Johnson is an individual finalist in the Warren Buffett’s Secret Millionaires Club “Grow Your Own Business Challenge” and needs the community to vote on www.smckids.com/vote to help him win $5,000 for his business. Voting goes until May 12.
His idea, Beaux Up, is a modern twist on the gentleman’s staple by making bowties customizable. Johnson said he and his friends enjoy wearing bowties, but don’t want to “look like their grandfathers.”
“He’s the one that’s not afraid to get on the dance floor,” he said of his audience. “Or he’ll wear a bowtie not necessarily for a formal event, but just because it looks good. What we are trying to do is make the bowtie cool enough so that people look at it in a different way, yet edgy enough rather than it (just) be formal.”
This is one of the Woodlawn School ninth-grader’s many ventures, having already served as a child actor in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and six seasons of “Army Wives.” Plus, when he was 8, he and his sisters, Lachlan and Erin, invented Flipoutz, a silicone bracelet that holds coins youth can trade and track online. They gained notoriety after winning on the reality television show “Shark Tank” before later selling the business to a toy company.
Johnson has participated in youth entrepreneur conferences all over the country to teach teens about what it takes to have their own business.
“No matter how old you are, no matter what your idea is, as long as you have a passion for what you are doing and have the confidence to go with it, then you can succeed,” he said.
The idea of Beaux Ups is to take halves from different bowties, and combine them so they have different colors, patterns or material. The clips, thin enough to fit under a collar, allow the halves to be connected or separated at any time to make them interchangeable. Beaux Ups aren’t to be confused with clip-on bowties.
“A pre-tied bowtie means you aren’t really trying,” he said with a chuckle.
He’s in talks with a prominent Southern clothing company.
After getting the idea and making some prototypes, he applied for the contest. Johnson's idea beat out more than 4,000 entries. Making the top 10, he already earned $250 to go to the business. Now that he’s in the top five, he will head to Omaha May 18 to pitch his idea to Buffett and the other judges.
Johnson wants to help the community through his business. He’s already partnered with Ada Jenkins Center’s Life Compass program that helps people get jobs.
“If there is any more prize money that comes from this contest, we’d love to give some of that to the Ada Jenkins Center and a portion of the profits from Beaux Up is going to go to Ada Jenkins,” he said, adding the rest will go back into the business launch.
Life Compass’ mission of getting a helping hand from neighbors after unforeseen circumstances resonated with them, having lost their River Run home to a fire in 2009 and receiving help from the community.