Written by Doug O’Neill

Mango Tango Balls chocked full of dried mango, medjool dates, raw almonds and unsweetened dried coconut? How about Avocado-Mango Smoothies that blend together such ingredients as ginger, spinach, clementines, dates and matcha green tea powder? Would a Lemon Chia Coconut Energy Bar give you a mid-day boost?

These delicious sounding treats aren’t merely intended to incite tummy tumblings and sugar-cravings. They’re all packed full of healthy ingredients. Plus, they’re sugar-free and vegan-friendly. There’s also another benefit: creating these healthy snacks has enabled a 15-year-old high school student to learn about marketing, product development, accounting and what it takes to start your own company.

The goodies listed above are featured on the product list for Hipster Herbivores, whose slogan is “sugar-free vegan goodness.” The sole proprietor is high school student Caitlyn Pinto, who was one of the youngest participants in the City of Toronto’s Summer Company program for 2018.

So what inspires a 15-year-old to start her own company, develop a business plan, and apply for a summer grant for a venture that will give her hands-on entrepreneurial experience? It’s  simple: a love of healthy eating and the desire to share it with others.

“I’ve always been passionate about fitness, healthy eating and creating nutritious recipes. When I’m not at home coming up with new foodie creations and testing them on my friends and family, I’m typically at the gym,” says Pinto, who attends high school in Toronto. “I was inspired to start my own company after observing how much my friends and family enjoy my food creations and how they never seem to get enough. That made me think about the possibility of selling my food creations to other people.”

Pinto’s mother knew a young woman who participated in the Summer Company program in 2016 and suggested it to her daughter, who applied and was accepted. “I wasn’t expecting such a vigorous program,” says Pinto. “I had to create a business plan – something I’d never done before. Mapping out my food business taught me a lot, especially in terms of figuring out customer tastes. There were sessions on marketing, how to promote myself and my goods, and I had to learn how to manage my financials. I even used some of my Grade 11 book-keeping to keep track of expenses and revenue. I didn’t realize when I applied that I’d be spending time on a regular basis with other young entrepreneurs so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned from them. I also got to share ideas with people quite a bit older than me.”

Several times each week, Pinto would set up her table – selling smoothies, nutritious vegan bowls, sugar-free treats and high-energy baked goods – at various markets throughout Toronto, including Kensington Market and St. Lawrence Market. “It was a learning lesson for me. I’d never put myself out there before,” said Pinto. “And I learned to accept that some days will be slower in sales than others.”

For Pinto, the Summer Company experience enabled her to use all of the nutrition information she’d acquired over the years: “I’m self-taught for the most part, but I’ve also learned a lot from my father who’s always been extremely aware of nutrition. I put a lot of work into choosing the ingredients for every item on my menu for Hipster Herbivores and to understand the nutritional value of everything I sell. For example, I use matcha green tea powder a lot because of its antioxidant properties. I also realized the importance of testing in terms of flavor, texture, levels of sweetness and to gauge the buyer’s response.” Pinto learned where and when to buy ingredients in bulk at a good price – like any smart entrepreneur.

Pinto hasn’t decided what she’ll study after high school but two things are certain: she’ll have a solid set of entrepreneurial skills and a sound base in nutrition to help her wherever she goes.

Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real