From lemonade stands to lawn mowing businesses and beyond, some kids naturally seek out ways to earn a buck or two from a young age. Big or small, successful or not, these businesses can teach kids valuable skills that will carry them through life and sometimes lead them to a life as business owners.
Local residents — and lifelong entrepreneurs — Cassie and Zach Boca are seeking to both build opportunities and foster business mindsets for such young entrepreneurs in Eagle County. By starting a Children’s Business Fair this fall and planning to open a new school in 2023, the couple hopes to arm children with the skills of successful entrepreneurs, creators and builders.
“We’re seeing this massive shift to a gig, freelance economy and I think that’s only going to continue, so I think we’re just arming kids with really solid character traits,” Zach Boca said. “It’s having a growth mindset, it’s being curious, being persistent, team building, having a way to think about risk and having risk tolerance and critical thinking.”
While these characteristics are pulled from a Harvard Business Study of Entrepreneurs, Zach Boca added that they’re also qualities he’s experienced as a business owner himself and as a parent.
“These are all characteristics that we think give kids a fulfilling life and a way to think critically about the world and adapt and have a lot of the flexibility, curiosity and freedom that we’ve been able to have as entrepreneurs,” he said.
Cassie and Zach Boca moved to Eagle County from Nashville in January 2020 with their two kids — now 3.5 years old and 17 months old — for the lifestyle and to introduce their kids to the recreational opportunities available here.
Both come from a background in entrepreneurship: Zach Boca primarily in tech, having exited four tech startups, and Cassie Boca primarily through the ownership of a digital marketing company for the past eight years. Always looking for new opportunities, the couple saw a chance to fill a gap in Eagle County for children.
Cassie Boca said that while driving in EagleVail and scrolling through the Vail Moms Facebook page, she noticed a lot of “cool, young entrepreneurs in the valley.”
From their backgrounds and as parents, they wanted to create a community for these kids as well as help instill and encourage the entrepreneurial-like characteristics and qualities they have.
Children’s Business Fair
The first opportunity the couple saw to do this was through a business fair. The first annual Children’s Business Fair will be hosted at the Edwards Farmer’s Market on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 9 am to 1 pm
“We really wanted to provide an opportunity for those kids to come together, put a business plan together that’s really thoughtful, talk about how they plan to make a profit, how will they pay for their startup costs, and to really put some thought behind their business, more than just having their parents helping them set it up,” Cassie Boca said. “For us, as two entrepreneurs in the valley, I just feel like we have so many young kids that I want to encourage those qualities in, so if we can facilitate that for them, that was kind of the idea behind it.”
The fair is currently accepting applications for up to 20 kids — between the ages of 3 and 16 — to participate in the business fair. Already, some applications have rolled in from the traditional lemonade and cookie stand businesses to other creative endeavors such as survival bracelets and flavored marshmallows.
As part of the application, the kids are asked to create — with as little help from parents as possible — a business plan. This includes basic information like the name of the business and the product or service being sold to more thoughtful information about how they plan to define success, make a profit, pay for startup costs and more.
“They’re really putting some thought into their business, they’re creating a business plan just like any entrepreneur would,” Cassie Boca said.
Zach Boca said he and Cassie are being reactive to these business plans as they come in, offering varying degrees of help to the kids and parents as needed.
“We have a couple of t3-year-olds who are definitely going to need more support. Our 3-year-old, like many 3-year-olds is a master negotiator, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to make lemonade or come up with a name. We’re meeting with parents and meeting with children and helping along the way,” he said. “This is about exposing kids to a full cycle of having a business and just giving them an opportunity.”
There isn’t a deadline for kids to submit an application to participate, but the fair only has space for up to 20 kids, so “the sooner the better,” Cassie Boca said.
While the Children’s Business Fair is mostly an opportunity for local kids to dip their toes into business ownership, Cassie and Zach Boca are hopeful the fair will serve as a springboard into their next venture, a new local school — Vail Valley Unbound — that is already on the way.
Vail Valley Unbound
As parents themselves who are preparing for their eldest child to attend kindergarten in the coming years, Cassie and Zach Boca toured a number of local schools but ultimately felt that there was a gap in what was being offered and what they felt their child needed.
“We’ve always felt like it’s going to take a bit of a non-traditional school — mainly because we’re entrepreneurs, our brains are wired to work a little bit differently,” Cassie Boca said. “I just felt like something that would really complement this valley would be a school that really focuses a lot more on building some characteristics of entrepreneurs. And in true entrepreneur style, I’m like: ‘Could I start something that would maybe be a perfect fit for our kids?’”
For Zach Boca, the inspiration for the school tracks back to his own days in the classroom.
“When I think back to sitting in a classroom, being taught at — even now if I listen to a lecture or something — I don’t process that well at all,” he said. “I see that in our son, our oldest: he’s very curious, he wants to ask so many questions, he would drive a teacher insane with the amount of questions in a traditional setting.”
This is where Vail Valley Unbound, the new nonprofit “modern schoolhouse” the couple is aiming to open in Fall 2023, comes in. The K-5 school will be an affiliate of Acton Academy and accredited through the International Association of Learner Driven Schools.
There are several core tenants of the school, which Cassie and Zach Boca hope will provide a different experience for their students. The basic idea is that the school will be child-led and use Socratic discussions to drive learning. And, while the school will have teachers, they will serve as guides and facilitators rather than traditional teachers.
“We think that it’s more important that the journey — the discussion, the ability to be curious — is more important than landing on the right answer,” Zach Boca said. “Going back to that Socratic discussion where that authority, voting on how we want to run the classroom, guiding discussions, that’s all driven by what the students land on. It is sort of, in a way, a ‘Lord of the Flies’ form of self-governance model that we’re going for; which is both terrifying but very exciting.”
The students will still learn common core skills, with curriculum and materials provided through Acton Academy, but students will help drive how these are learned. The school will be taught in sprints — or work periods — with the kids choosing a “quest” in each sprint where they will work on building the skills they need.
And in learning these subjects, students will be encouraged to focus on those characteristics of entrepreneurs such as growth mindset, critical thinking, curiosity, persistence and team building.
For example, with reading, “we hope that we’re not just teaching kids to read, but we want them to be able to think critically, so be able to think about what they’re reading, understand it, even understand the sounds of each letter versus just seeing words,” Cassie Boca said.
“One of the things we’re incorporating is asking questions while we’re reading so we can start developing that critical thinking skill at a young age,” Zach Boca added.
Currently, the couple is in the process of finding a location for the school, building its board of directors, setting up a scholarship fund and more.
So far, the process of starting the school has been entirely different than the couple’s previous business endeavors.
“For me, it’s fun to break the mold,” Zach Boca said. “One of my biggest concerns about having children was frankly, education and schools. I know we both think about this as the most important thing that we could be doing with our time. That’s a different way of thinking about a business.”
For Cassie Boca, who originally went to school for elementary education but left because she did not conform to certain aspects of traditional education, the school is the perfect storm of her passion for education and entrepreneurship.
“If we can get it right, it just sets them up for a lifetime of happiness and success — however, success is defined for them. Not just financial, but a huge thing for us as parents, is I want our kids to grow up to be happy people and fulfilled,” Cassie Boca said. “While it’s really different than my past with a digital marketing company, it’s been an ongoing passion of mine and I feel like my two worlds have finally come together, which is just really exciting for me.”
Starting next fall, they are hopeful they will welcome their first class of students. The goal is to have 20 kids in the first year, starting with kindergarten and first-graders and building towards being a K-5 school.
While the school does not have a waitlist or application yet, Cassie and Zach Boca are open to meeting with students and families to determine if the school will be a good fit.
“It will definitely be a process in terms of not just us interviewing students, but families really interviewing us, because we’re not going to be for everyone, and we know that,” Cassie Boca said. “We want kids to find their fit, to find their community where they’re able to learn best and where they’re excited.”
To learn more about the school or to connect with Cassie and Zach Boca about the school, visit VailValleyUnbound.org.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at [email protected]