When Khawlah Albaf’s family moved from Sydney to the regional NSW town of Young six years ago, she was struck by the limited services and work experience options for young people in the local community.
“The gulf is vast – from mental health support, education, training, employment opportunities to something as simple as entertainment, recreation and food,” says the 15-year-old.
Keen to do something about it, Albaf and her older brother Jaleel hatched a plan to create Brothersista Bubble Tea – a venture to sell the sweet, cold, tea-based drink popular with urban youth at the local farmer’s market, from September 2020.
The Year 10 student says she was usure how the small community of 10,000 would respond to the locally unfamiliar product that originated in Taiwan, sold by young people from a Muslim family.
But her fears were unfounded.
“After word of mouth got out, we got customers from all age groups, including older customers who are really enjoying it,” says Albaf, who now employs several local young people and has expanded the venture to offer other merchandise like reusable tumblers and branded air pod cases and key rings.
“The only tea they knew was a (hot) cup of tea but they’re changing it up and trying different flavours. Everyone has been very supportive and accepting.”
Albaf’s enterprise – which has earned her a win among the 6,200 registrations in this year’s Youth Impact Challenge, an initiative of the Australian School of Entrepreneurship (part of the ASE Group), in partnership with Westpac’s Davidson Institute – has also given her the opportunity to talk about cultural diversity.
“Me and my brother are culturally diverse and the product we’re providing is a culturally diverse drink,” she says.
“It’s given us the opportunity to talk to people about other cultures, the food and drink they like and how different it can be to what they find normal.”
Chief executive of the ASE Group Taj Pabari says the high quality of business ideas among the 7- to 21-year-old entrants in this year’s challenge demonstrates the “impressive innovation and commitment” among young people, qualities he believes have been honed by the pandemic.
“Entrepreneurship has become a really attractive pathway to some of those young people,” Pabari says.
As many of the industries severely impacted by pandemic lockdowns – like entertainment, hospitality, tourism and retail – are those which employee mostly young people, he says many of them haven’t had a choice.
“Either you start your own business or you’re unemployed,” he says.
“When starting a micro business…they’re quite literally creating their future job. It puts them in the driver’s seat. They’re not having to wait for an industry to recover, they can make the decisions about their future.”
Among other challenge winners were Blake Tourneur and Lachlan Miegel, 15-year-old friends who created the HydroSoil Lite system, a sensor and app which uses soil type, plant type and moisture level to let a user know when their plants need water.
In the younger category, 7-year-old winner Sebastian Onate-Henriquez created sustainable clothing and recycled t-shirt business The Earth is My Place. Siobhan Wilson, 12, won for Our Pixie Friends, which helps children with medical needs build resilience and raises money for medical research. And the young adult category crowned 19-year-old Keziah Furnell, who started STEM Sisterhood, a series of workshops designed to engage young women and build professional networks. All winning submissions align to one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Pabari says the pipeline of entrepreneurs would be even stronger if entrepreneurship was taught at primary school level.
“We can’t have a generation of entrepreneurs if we start teaching young people from 18 years old, which is where current federal government support starts for (young entrepreneurs),” he says.
“If we want to create a real pipeline, we need to start teaching it from primary school. That’s how you create a generation of young innovators, passionate about solving some of our country’s biggest problems.”
Albaf agrees, saying it can be hard for youngsters with a business idea to know where to start.
“It’s definitely a daunting and scary experience when you first start – spending money on product, marketing, suppliers, equipment, how long will my product take to come, making sure the website’s up to date, accounting,” she says.
“A big issue with young people starting businesses is they’re scared of the unknown, they’re not taught about it or how to start. We should be teaching them there are pathways.”
As for the future, Albaf – who adds the Youth Impact Challenge win to many other accolades including the 2020 Rural and Regional Champion of the Year and her nomination in the 2020 Australian Muslim Achievement Awards – has her sights set on tertiary education.
But that doesn’t mean she’ll turn her back on bubble tea.
“I really want to keep this going,” she says.
“I want to get funding to buy a van and go to other regional towns to give them the chance to taste something new.”
The Youth Impact Challenge is an initiative of the Australian School of Entrepreneurship in partnership with Westpac’s Davidson Institute.