Maya Penn

COMPANY:  Maya’s Ideas

AGE: 14

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Penn started her company, Maya’s Ideas, at age eight when people kept asking where she got the headbands she wore. It turned out, Penn crafted them for herself, and she decided to start selling them. Since she began selling her handcrafted, eco-friendly designs online, Penn made $30 thousand dollars in 2012, reaching countries all around the world.

In 2013, Penn gave a speech at the TED Women’s conference where she shared her experience as a young entrepreneur. She spoke on the importance of giving back and the need for more women in technology. To date, this presentation has accumulated over one million views. Since then, Penn has had many more speaking engagements. She has also appeared in several media outlets including: Forbes, The Huffington Post, Fox 5 Atlanta and The Steve Harvey Show.

Penn also has an affinity for technology that she credits to her dad. He showed her how to disassemble and reassemble a computer when she was four years old. The experience led to Penn codding her own online business. When asked about learning programming at a young age, Penn puts computer language—HTML—into perspective. “It’s like learning any other language. French, German, Spanish or Chinese,” she says. Penn also discovered a synergy between artistry and technology when she began to code animations to create her own animated short films.

When she spoke at the TED Women’s conference she introduced her first animated short called Malicious Dishes. The idea for the short came to her while she was scanning her computer for viruses. Penn said she began to wonder what it would be like if viruses had personalities. She also revealed The Pollinators, an animated series she created about bees and their impact on the environment. Similar to her eco-friendly product line, Penn uses her talent for animation to raise awareness on environmental issues. “If plants aren’t pollinated by the pollinators, than all creatures—including ourselves—will starve.”

Penn is also working on creating biodegradable sanitary pads for women in developing countries. She says many of the girls do not have access to sanitary pads, and as a result, miss school when they are on their menstrual cycles. Sometimes they even result to harmful methods such as using mud or rocks. “When I learned about that, it was a big concern for me.” Penn says there are other companies helping girls get pads and tampons, but emphasized that they are not reusable. “So once they use it, then what? They don’t have any more, and the problem starts all over again.”

Penn donates 10 to 20 percent of her profits to charities and environmental organizations. “I feel I am a part of the new wave of entrepreneurs that not only want to have a successful business, but also [a] sustainable future.” She believes she can meet the needs of her customers without compromising the world that future generations will have to live in.

In Penn’s opinion, the environment is not the only thing wrong with the world and she has a lot of “change” to do. Naturally, one of those changes involves technology. Penn is a champion for women’s equality and is displeased with the lack of women in the technology sector. “The field of tech isn’t very even, gender wise, and I think that that really needs to change…we need girls. We are just as capable, and I speak on that to my nonprofits,” Penn told a Tech Republic writer.

Penn has a bright future ahead of her. She is a dreamer. She is a thinker. Above all, she is an inspiration. Everything she has accomplished should be a reminder to everyone that what we can achieve is not limited to what society considers typical. However, what we actually do achieve is determined by how much we allow our vision of ourselves be dictated by the norm.