Maryland 5th-grader to present cupcake idea to Warren Buffett

For The Baltimore Sun

If you ever find yourself looking for an excuse to eat more cupcakes, 11-year-old Krissa Hillman has a good one.

The fifth-grader from Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup is the creative mastermind behind Cupcakes for Literacy, a business that sells baked goods to benefit local schools, libraries and reading programs.

"Literacy is a big part of life. You have to read everything," Hillman said. "So what better way to help people understand than though something everyone likes?"

Hillman's idea has earned her a spot as a finalist in Warren Buffett's Secret Millionaires Club "Grow Your Own Business Challenge," a national competition that encourages young entrepreneurs to develop smart financial habits and come up with unique business concepts. Nearly 4,000 contestants aged 7 to 16 entered the competition this year.

Hillman will fly to Omaha, Neb., this weekend along with four other individual finalists and three teams to present their ideas to the billionaire investor himself. The winner will receive $5,000. For Hillman, it's a business dream come true.

"Everything about this has been exciting. I get to actually meet Warren Buffett," she said. "It all sounds like something only someone high up in the business world would get to do."

The idea for Cupcakes for Literacy came about last fall when Hillman spotted a cupcake recipe book she wanted at a school book sale. It was expensive, so her mother said she would buy it only if it was put to good use. Hillman loves reading as much as she loves baking, so she thought about ways she could combine the two. From there, things started falling into place.

"Six years ago I made a website called Storytime with Krissa to upload videos of her reading aloud," said Sabrina Wilson, Hillman's mother. "When she got the cupcake book, we decided to put a new spin on it."

Hillman's goal is for Cupcakes for Literacy to run in conjunction with, which provides a place where people can listen to stories and pursue other literacy opportunities. She's even gotten her friends involved with the project, forming a student board of directors.

So far, Hillman's business venture has been successful. She has had one bake sale at her school during parent-teacher conferences; in six hours she raised $258 for the school's library.

"It was neat to see an idea that sparked from a book turn into something that was able to give back to the school," said Bollman Bridge's media specialist Sandy Sneeringer. "The money she raised is going towards purchasing more books that our students like to read."

According to her mom, Hillman's success is all due to her business practices.

"Krissa has learned to go where the people are, sell the best products and treat the customers great. That's exactly what she's doing with this," Wilson said.

Hillman has another bake sale in the works for this summer, but right now she's focused on getting ready to present to Buffett.

"I have a script I'm going over," said Hillman. "Part of the competition is an exhibit where we can explore each other's business ideas, so I'm also practicing communication and how to shake hands."

If she wins the grand prize of $5,000, Hillman said, it would go toward getting business licenses so she can operate Cupcakes for Literacy on a larger scale. Eventually, she hopes to partner with farmers' markets and grocery stores to reach even more customers.

And while running a business is tough, Hillman says it can be easy for people her age as long as they're doing something they love, like baking cupcakes.

"You just have to be really into whatever you're doing," she said. "Find programs to get involved with and talk to other people with businesses to get help. Just try it out and see what happens!"

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