By Marina Lupinek
She is an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a CEO, an artist, an eco-designer, a writer, an illustrator, an animator, and she is going to be one of the speakers at One Spark 2015.
The most impressive piece of her resume, however, is that this highly accomplished, multitalented young woman is only 14 years old. Her name is Maya Penn, and she is the founder of her own company, Maya’s Ideas.
Beginning her entrepreneurial endeavors in her hometown of Atlanta at the young age of eight Penn’s company started simply as a girl making accessories for fun. She said as people began to compliment her on her designs that she would wear, she started to think bigger.
“I started my business out of curiosity,” Penn said. “I knew that I loved designing clothes.”
Being raised in an environmentally cautious family, her concept was slightly different than most eight-year-olds might conjure up.
“I had learned about how some of the dyes in some clothing and even some of the processes of making the clothes was harmful to people in the planet, so that’s what gave me the idea of making an eco-friendly clothing line,” she said.
With her mom teaching her to sew using materials such as vintage fabrics and organic cottons, and her dad teaching her about computers and technology, Penn created and launched her online shop with her designs and eco-friendly products.
“I didn’t have any business ideas at the time, since I was just eight,” she said, “but I set up my shop online and it kind of just took off from there.”
Six years later, her company has flourished, reaching countries all around the world. She has received national attention from news outlets such as Forbes, The Huffington Post, CNN and NPR. On the philanthropic side, Penn is currently working with her nonprofit organization, Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet, on a project that creates eco-friendly sanitary napkins for girls in third world countries.
“A lot of girls can’t go to school because they don’t have any pads to wear on their monthly cycle,” Penn said.
She is partnering her nonprofit with MedShare, a nonprofit surplus medical supply redistribution organization, that will distribute these products to those who need them.
Penn attributes her environmental savviness to her upbringing. Her mother, Deidre Penn, who has home schooled the 10th grader with her husband, John, said they raised Maya around environmental thinking.
“We always had awareness about the planet and about what people can do,” Deidre Penn said. “I think Maya saw us and kind of by experiencing and watching what we do, she absorbed some of that in that way.”
Deidre Penn said they always encouraged Maya, never limiting her, and always gave her the opportunities to learn the things she wanted to learn.
“Anything Maya was interested in, we supported it,” Deidre Penn said.
This style of nurtured learning empowered Penn to become a multifaceted girl. She does not limit herself to only Maya’s Ideas. Currently, she also is working on an animated series she has created called “The Pollinators.”
“I’ve always loved animation,” she said. “That was actually my first love.”
Penn said she learned about how animation works when she was about 3 years old on a children’s television show segment about jobs, and she wanted to be an animator ever since.
“I learned about how cartoons were made, and how these people called animators created the cartoons that I saw every day, and ever since then I’ve been interested in it,” Penn said. “When I learned about an animator, I thought,
‘That’s exactly what I want to be when I grow up!’”
So far, 11 years later, she still has not changed her mind.
While Penn may seem to be far beyond most 14-year-olds, her mom says underneath all the accomplishments, she’s just like all the other kids.
“She’s just a normal, goofy 14-year-old,” Deidre Penn said. “She’s always making us laugh.”
When she’s not working on her business, Penn says she enjoys hanging out with friends, who don’t let Penn’s entrepreneurial life affect their friendships.
“Most of my friends don’t even know that I have this company until I tell them,” she said. “And then they still treat me the same, like I’m just the same Maya that they always hang out with and goof around with. I just happen to have a company and they think it’s cool.”
She also enjoys reading, writing and playing video games, and looks forward to attending events such as Dragon Con, a multi-genre fan culture convention, for which she makes her own costumes.
Penn is always using her many plans and efforts to give back to the community. She says she takes 10-20 percent of the profits from Maya’s Ideas and donates it to local and global charities and environmental organizations. Each organization is hand-picked, Penn said, and she has a personal association with each of them.
“I usually pick out organizations that I have a deep connection with,” she said.
Penn sponsors a large variety of organizations, ranging from Southface, an eco-friendly building and construction organization, to the Captain Planet Foundation, which helps involve youth in environmental projects, both which are local to her hometown of Atlanta.
Looking forward to her speaking engagement at One Spark this year, Penn gives a sneak peek into her ideas and offers a little bit of advice to future entrepreneurs and those trying to start businesses.
“It is really important to do something that you love,” Penn said, “Because if you are doing something you love, it doesn’t make the work as hard, and you already have the commitment there to your project and to your company because it is something that you really are passionate about.”
Want to know more about Maya? Check out her website at http://mayasideas.com/