At 15, reaching that age this past week, Megan Edwards is still a year away from being able to legally drive a car. But she already owns a vintage 1955 International Harvester van and is launching her own business, MooHoo Gelato.
Meanwhile, she takes online honors classes in algebra, biology and other courses through Johns Hopkins University and Northwestern, even as she runs a Kickstarter campaign to help get her fledgling business off the ground. This, after having traveled to Bologna, Italy, last year for a series of classes on the proper way to make gelato.
This isn’t your ordinary 15-year-old.
“I honestly thought it would be recipes and baking things,” Megan says of the coursework in Italy. “It was really more about science.”
She studied methods of blending ingredients to create proper flavors and learned how to get the proper consistency hinged on “the anti-freezing powers of sugar.” She learned the ins and outs of how to make traditional Italian gelato the proper way — it’s made with more milk and less air than ice cream — taught by those who know it best.
She also studied the business side of gelato, after having already learned plenty from her entrepreneurial dad.
“You also learn how people screw gelato up,” she says, punctuating her words with laughter.
She traveled to the classes with her father, Tom Edwards, who owns MozzaPi, a bakery and cafe in Anchorage. That’s where she is making and selling her gelato products, for now, a couple of days per week (chocolate is a top flavor).
Once she raises the $10,000 she needs to get the van up to working order, the plan is to use it for catering private events and weddings.
She also hopes to sell her products at community festivals and eventually work up to opening the traveling gelato stand at specific locations on a weekly basis to help establish a regular clientele.
The Kickstarter campaign is about more than just raising startup money, Megan is quick to assert. She sees it as a necessary first step to engaging the community, a focal point for her business venture.
Per Kickstarter tradition, she’s offering value to those who donate at specific levels, starting with a handwritten thank-you note to those kicking in at $20.
But another aspect to Megan’s business savvy is that she isn’t just about making gelato and selling it — she’s taken her knowledge and is teaching courses at MozzaPi, where her father also teaches a variety of classes on baking and other topics.
Top-level donors to the MooHoo Kickstarter can get free classes.
If someone wants to step up and donate $1,000, they will even get the chance to have their own custom flavor produced and sold temporarily. Pony up $5,000, and she’ll make your flavor and keep it in the rotation permanently.
Megan has been baking at MozzaPi for a while, before starting MooHoo; gelato came about as a byproduct of a longer process. She started by making homemade ice cream, which helped teach her the advantage of small-batch foods.
Her dad approached her more than six years ago about making gelato and perhaps turning it into a small business, but MooHoo would have to wait a few more years.
“I was excited for the opportunity,” Megan says, “but at the time I felt like I would enjoy being a kid more than I would want to take on a business, especially one that would be more work than I could even image at the time.”
“I knew she was too young to start a business when she was 8,” Edwards says of his daughter. “Oftentimes in life, though, before we can do something we also have to understand why we can’t. This planted the seed. I wanted her to begin thinking, planning and preparing.”
A few years later, he brought it up again, and she began experimenting with making gelato at home, she says, “in one of those little Cuisinart things.”
She recently surpassed the $1,500 mark on Kickstarter, so there’s plenty left to do. The van needs a freezer. It needs mechanical repairs. It needs to be branded, as it’s an off-white color at the moment.
At this point, Megan sees MooHoo as potential funding for her future college education. Ask her about someday having a brick-and-mortar business, and she considers the possibility only briefly, acknowledging that would be far in the future.
“I would have to change my model,” she says matter-of-factly, musing that she may have to consider making it a coffee and gelato bar, and possibly diversifying to add other desserts.
Ask Megan about what role her business-minded dad has played, and she considers the subject, well, business as usual.
“Honestly,” she says, “he’s my dad, so I don’t know anything else.”
And Megan dismisses the notion that simply wanting to start her own enterprise means she was destined to do it.
She imagined one day having a job she loved; MooHoo is something she says came to her more organically. She balks when she hears people say, “If you want something enough, you can achieve it.”
It’s about more, the pragmatic teenager believes.
“That drives me crazy,” she says of what she considers hollow advice. “It’s not about that. It’s about a means to an end, and finding that means.”
Or as dad puts it, “where preparation and opportunity meet.” He adds, “She has owned every part of this process and continues to figure it out on her own. She’s a pretty awesome girl.”
And for Megan, who is as upbeat as people come, the process also is about enjoyment. And community.
Megan says gelato is a “joy” to create, but she relishes bringing others enjoyment as well. She’s personally engaging by nature, so her first business naturally has to follow suit. Selling gelato from a van is much more about personal relationships over a cold, sweet treat on a summer day than it is about profit margins anyway. At 15, she already understands the balance.
And if she isn’t sure yet what she will be when she officially grows up, well, perhaps MooHoo is a means to that eventual end.
“I see how rewarding this can be,” Megan says. “You can influence other people. If it can make a difference in someone else’s life with what I do, that’s what I want to do with my life. Starting a business is very stressful, but I know it’s something I can grow into.”
But if you’ll excuse her, she has a biology test to study for in the meantime.