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Kansas City High Schoolers Juggle School, Jobs And Their Own Companies

Shawnee Mission School District
Shawnee Mission West senior Dawson Borcherding won the top prize at the First National Bank Business Plan Competition in 2014, when he was a sophomore.

Being in high-school can feel like a full-time job — eight hours a day in the classroom, plus schoolwork to do at home.

Throw in an after school job and a few extra curricular activities and you’ve got a very busy teen.

Kansas City-area high-schoolers Dawson Borcherding and Daniel Serres have taken that already busy schedule one step further.

Both started their own companies before they turned 17.

Young Leaf Landscaping

Mowing lawns is a pretty common first job for young people, but Dawson Borcherding does much more than mow lawns.

When Borcherding was a sophomore, he was working at a tree nursery and taking an entrepreneurship course at Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas. 

When it came time to write a business plan for class, he incorporated what he learned at work into a plan for a specialized urban garden business — and won the top prize of $2,500 at the First National Bank Business Plan Competition.

So he quit his job at the nursery and started Young Leaf Landscaping.

After a few raised gardens and a retaining wall, he tweaked his plan.

“I finally realized that I’d be making a majority of my money through doing general landscaping, so I shifted,” Borcherding told guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR’sUp To Date.

Now, in addition running a profitable landscaping operation he also has a tree and shrub farm.

D.A. Socks

Daniel Serres was at a women’s basketball game at Van Horn High School in Independence, Missouri, when he noticed that although the girls had matching uniforms, they were all wearing different colored socks.

“The schools were providing really cool uniforms, but not socks. So I got the idea, and that was my first sale and then I kind of grew it from there,” Serres says.

Serres was developing a business plan for the Youth Entrepreneurs program, which teaches business and entrepreneurship to high schoolers in the Kansas City area.

“I sat down with the [women's basketball] coach and I had a little meeting with the girls and we got together and we drew the sock out and it became real,” Serres says. 

Credit Courtesy / Daniel Serres
Daniel Serres
Van Horn senior poses with 2015 Royals Paulo Orlando and Francisco Pena and his 'Forever KC' socks.

Serres was able to get seed capital to launch D. A. Socks through the Youth Entrepreneurs program, but his big break came when 2015 World Series MVP and close family friend Salvador Perez agreed to do some free publicity for him.

Credit Courtesy / D.A. Socks
D.A. Socks
2015 World Series MVP poses with a pair of Daniel Serres' special edition 'Forever KC' socks.

 Perez and a few of his 2015 Royals teammates posted pictures on their social media accounts with Serres’ “Forever KC” sock, bringing a lot of local media attention to his company.

But keeping up with a successful business and full high-school curriculum is no easy task.

Challenges of being a teen with a company

In addition to running two businesses, Borcherding is enrolled in four AP courses at Shawnee Mission West.

“There are times I get stressed,” he says. “I try to keep my paperwork stuff and my bids that I do, designs going out on consultations, that's all kind of my weekday course load, along with my homework, which is manageable. And then I pretty much save all my projects for weekends and spring break and days off.”

Serres has two part-time jobs on top of school and running his sock business. He says he gets needed support from his friends.

“If they see me slacking off in class they’ll be like ‘Hey Daniel, let’s get it together, let’s do this.’ We motivate each other, which is something that’s very crucial when we have so much going on,” Serres says.

Aside from time management, Serres says that trying to open a business account was another challenge, because he’s under the age of 18.

“We’re not really set up to have kids mine and Dawson’s age to go out and actually start businesses that are making a profit,” Serres says.

A lot of the paperwork involved in running a business required a parent’s signature instead of his own.

Borcherding says overcoming these barriers was hard work, and he wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

“You have to have passion ... you have to have the will to learn the ins and outs of what you want to do,” Borcherding says.

“If you’re in it solely because you see us and think, 'Oh, they’re making a lot of money,’ ... I think it’s not going to work.”

Borcherding is heading to Kansas State University in the fall and plans on putting his business on hold until after college.

Serres hasn’t decided on a university, though he thinks he’ll go out-of-state. He plans on keeping D.A. Socks running.

Both teenagers does have some advice for young people who do have the passion to start a business.

“Keep good records,” Borcherding says.

“Know your numbers, and believe in yourself,” Serres says.

This story is part of Innovation KC, a series of conversations about innovation and innovators in Kansas City. To suggest Kansas City innovators for future interviews, send us an email, tweet us, or find us on Facebook.

Lisa Rodriguez is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.

Brian Ellison is a host and contributor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @ptsbrian.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.