Onward & Upward

B.E.'s 2000 Small Business Award winners are flying high. Here's why.

big as Time Warner and be a completely self-contained operation. “People act like we [African Americans] don’t spend money. We spend a ton of money. And what we spend money on, I want to own.”

KIDPRENEURS AWARD
The Kidpreneurs Award honors a young entrepreneur or group of entrepreneurs, 18 years and under, who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and is committed to advancing the rich tradition of black business achievement.
Travis Keith Bruce
Founder of TK Worm Factory
The lowly earthworm has helped raise the business IQ of Travis Keith Bruce.

Bruce, guided by a mixture of inquisitiveness, smarts, and a natural affinity for the slimy creatures, has not only learned how to raise, sell, and market worms and their castings (manure), but he’s also learned what it takes to operate TK Worm Factory (www.tkworm.com), the Springfield, Illinois-based company he founded three years ago. In addition, Bruce has learned how to manage employees and maximize free publicity. On the other hand, he knows what it’s like to have a down year because of circumstances beyond his control. And after having taken on a partner, he’s learned what it’s like to share the profits.

Bruce, by the way, is only 15, but already possesses the business acumen of someone at least twice his age. TK Worm Factory sold $7,000 worth of earthworms and castings last year, and though this year’s figures will fall short of that mark because of drought conditions in the Springfield area, Bruce is unperturbed.

“This actually gives us time to work some problems out and raise more worms,” says Bruce.

His mother, Paula Bruce, a former healthcare professional who is now a computer network administrator and head of TK Worm’s shipping department, says the company started as a hobby, a fluke. “We didn’t know we were going to get into it [business] until it happened,” she said.

Bruce’s introduction to earthworms came when his grandfather took him fishing. “He had a little area in his backyard beneath some leaves, and when he needed to get some worms, he would just dig them up.”

Bruce’s interest grew however, after accidentally reading information about earthworms on the Internet. “I was looking for data about a video game that had ‘earthworm’ in the title and wound up reading about the lives of worms and their positive impact on the environment,” he says. “Earthworms like to eat garbage and have been promoted as a possible answer to overflowing landfills,” explains Bruce’s mother.

“I already knew that people had businesses selling worms as bait, but I didn’t know it was that profitable,” notes Bruce.

After finding a supplier that sold grain, which earthworms love to eat, Bruce started raising them in his basement. What started out as a hobby soon grew into a venture that required rented space in a warehouse.

Paula Bruce bought a machine to grind the grain for easy consumption, and a local cartoonist was tapped to design a company logo for business cards.

Business picked up when Bruce participated in a garden show at the state fai
r and the local newspaper ran an

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