Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Innovative Products Key to Student Entrepreneurs’ Success

Jul 30, 2014 11:08AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Ally Aufman, Zaydra Barkley and Lucas Rosenblatt

Several local students have demonstrated their business acumen by turning good ideas and interesting products into money-making ventures.

Ally Aufman of Marshall is barely 10, but she already has her own YouTube channel and website with videos demonstrating how to make a wide variety of Rainbow Loom bracelets. She is one of only a few ‘Loom Stars,’ a certification awarded by Rainbow Loom.

When Ally received a loom for Christmas, she worked with some basic patterns until she mastered them. “When she ran out of patterns, she started inventing her own,” said her mother, Kim Aufman. Some of Ally’s most popular designs include the Double Braid, the Nautique, and the Twisty Wristy. Two of her designs have been featured in the official Rainbow Loom book, and Jimmy Kimmel mentioned her on TV after she submitted 100 bracelets as well as a tie for his Suit of the Loom project.

“I like to create different ways to loom,” said Ally, a fourth-grader at Sewickley Academy. “I just created a new one called the Epic Wave, and I did a triple, three-row design.”

Ally’s YouTube channel, AllysBracelets, has had 3.7 million views and has more than 23,000 subscribers from 22 countries. While she first earned money by selling bracelets on her own, her focus now is on generating exposure on YouTube through instructional videos. She’s also developed an iPad and iPhone app.

“Ally’s designs were new and cutting-edge in the world of Rainbow Loom. They were new techniques of looming that people hadn’t seen before,” said Kim. “And they were created by a child, not an adult.”

Zaydra Barkley can trace her penchant for becoming a businesswoman to infancy: as a 6-month-old, she’d accompany her mom to work, and by 7 years old, she was painting her mom’s coworkers’ nails for tips. It is not surprising that today, the 12-year-old Harmony resident owns a business called Z’s Duct Tape, creating wallets, hair accessories, flower pens and other products made out of colorful duct tape patterns.

“We’d have them in my store, and every time we put them out, they’d fly off the shelves,” explained Zaydra’s mother, Kandy Barkley, who owns the women’s boutique, Eye Kandy. “That’s when we talked about it and decided that we’re going to set her up with Facebook so she can do custom orders.” Folks can also find Zaydra’s products at the Harmony Emporium and the Bottlebrush Gallery, where she’s taught duct tape classes.

According to Zaydra, she has always been creative and loves to paint. “It was like painting, but I used duct tape instead,” she said of her innovative product line. The artist, who will be attending Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School this fall, has even created a Marilyn Monroe poster out of duct tape.

A big boost for her business came when she met David Tutera, host of WE’s My Fair Wedding, and presented him with a custom wallet. Tutera loved it so much that he put the wallet, and Zaydra, on his own Facebook page. “I expanded a lot,” she said. “I make phone cases now, with gems on them, and desk organizers.”

As part of a class in advanced computer science and innovation, Winchester Thurston senior Lucas Rosenblatt developed an iPhone mobile app that simulates the stock market. The game is geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds to teach them how the stock market operates, allowing them to ‘buy’ up to a dozen stocks and view their holdings and portfolios.

“There are a lot of apps that allow you to invest fake money into the real market. For kids, that is inaccessible because you have to wait a day to see how stocks are doing,” said the 16-year-old Squirrel Hill resident. “I looked at trends in the stock market and created algorithms in the market—in general, what stock prices look like based on certain events—so that kids can press advance and go forward a day and see how stocks are doing without having to wait.”

Although it wasn’t his primary goal, Lucas thinks that his app may look good on a college application. “This started out as a money-making scheme; it can be very profitable if you get some success. Then I realized that colleges might be intrigued,” he said.

The app is still in an innovation phase; he hopes to release it after working out a few bugs. The price is undetermined as of yet.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the stock market but was never introduced to it; it seemed magical and foreign,” he explained. “It’s important for kids to learn about the biggest money exchange in the world, and the younger the better.”