The following essay was written by Jacob Schroeder, a finalist for the 2018 SuretyBonds.com Small Business Scholarship.
As an entrepreneur and owner of a local company, Imagine Balloons, I’m the most proud of my achievements which have led to positive community impact. Owning a company throughout my teen years has empowered me to work towards creating a larger and even more impactful company someday by pursuing a business degree.
I started Imagine Balloons as a fundraiser to visit my friend in Japan. Shohta was diagnosed with cancer shortly after living with me as an exchange student. Isolated for in the hospital for months, I made a promise to visit. Raising funds for international travel seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.
I thought back to when I’d been a child actor for a community event company. I’d dressed up in every embarrassing costume imaginable––a clown, a chicken, astronaut, and even a leprechaun––to twist balloons.
I decided to revive my old twisting skills to fundraise for my trip to Japan. I requested booth space at the farmer’s market and dusted off my balloon pump. I was surprised by the positive reception and success of my balloon stand!
I successfully completed my fundraiser, but my trip was postponed because Shohta needed a bone marrow transplant. Using some of my earnings, I sent him gifts and volunteered for the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s “Kids Making Miracles Pajama Jams.” Although I’d started with the goal of visiting my friend, I continued twisting because people enjoyed my balloons. As my company evolved from a fundraiser into a full-fledged business, Imagine Balloons quickly grew in popularity and I received referrals for marathons, fairs, and community events. Many organizations asked me to volunteer. I began donating time to non-profit organizations such as libraries, schools, and the Boys and Girls Club.
Due to my business successes, I was featured in the book, “What Degree Do I Need to Pursue A Career in Business” by Tamra Orr, and I was selected as Hillsboro’s Amazing Kid by Pamplin Media because I was an entrepreneur, active community volunteer, and I had been a Scholastic News Kid Reporter and one of the first kid journalists to interview a sitting United States President, Barack Obama.
These experiences helped me recognize the impact one person can have by working hard and making a difference. I continued to work towards growing my company and got new jobs outside of my local market. I twisted for the Oregon State Fair where I was featured on the news. Television visibility promoted my company, and I was invited to work for the Coos Bay Fair where I’ve contracted for the past five summers.
When Shohta was able to have visitors, we reunited in his hometown of Maebashi. During my trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to participate as an American guest for his exchange program and we formed a lifelong friendship. When he recovered, Shohta returned to Oregon to visit and brought his family. We went to the Coos Bay Fair where he got to watch an Oregon rodeo and see my balloon twisting entertainment company in action.
As my balloon designs became more complex, I discovered the enjoyment of using creativity to twist balloons into crazy creations. To keep up with demand, I experimented with proper pricing to ensure better line management, and started teaching myself how to make more imaginative designs. I developed the slogan, “I can twist whatever you imagine,” because I challenged myself to fulfill any unique sculpting requests.
I continued expanding my business and was invited to become the youngest member of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce. I learned to network and make new business connections in my community. The Chamber has welcomed me as a member of their local Teen Market to twist alongside other teen entrepreneurs this upcoming summer. I’ve also volunteered for the Hillsboro Chamber’s Schools to Career mock interview program by helping prepare my high school peers for job interviews.
I discovered that business ownership and leadership go hand in hand. Helping others by sharing what I’ve learned through running my own company and working hard has become a big part of who I am. I’m now a motivational speaker and I present to teens at a youth speaking club called Little Toasties. One of my presentations led to my becoming a journalism mentor for one of the club’s teens who was inspired by my presentation about my having been a Scholastic News Kid reporter. She applied and got the job!
Running my own balloon twisting company throughout my teen years also led to my finding ways to make a difference at my high school. I ran for class president and won. To fulfill my campaign promise, I invited food carts to my school by utilizing my Imagine Balloons farmer’s market contacts. I wanted to improve school spirit by developing a school spirit app for the iOS and Android platforms and I was able to secure funding for my project with the help of local business owners by attending Hillsboro Chamber events and getting additional funding from my school’s administrator. These challenges led to my learning additional valuable networking and business skills.
I also started a Prep for Success Club at my school because I realized that we didn’t have a lot of college prep opportunities at my school that are offered at other high schools. I meet with my club each week to help students practice test taking strategies and I’ve been finding scholarship options for them as well. I don’t want them to have the same disappointment as I’ve been facing as I’m finding out that I’m getting accepted into top schools that I can’t afford to attend.
As a small business owner, I discovered my ability to make my community a happier place by starting Imagine Balloons. Achievement through small business ownership has carried over into so many facets of my life. The leadership skills I’ve acquired have made a significant imprint on who I am, and my business experiences shaped my hopes and dreams for the future.
Jacob will continue attending Vanderbilt University in the fall, pursuing degrees in International Business and Business Entrepreneurship.