Talented 15-year-old heads her company

The acknowledgements are too many to list for this child “accidental” entrepreneur but reasons for her success are simple, a good product in demand and once she started–at age nine–a supportive family.

Leanna Archer’s great grandmother Lea Lebon in Haiti made a natural hair dressing using the country’s native plants – hibiscus, avocado, almond and rosemary oils and shipped off vats for the family in the U.S. Later, she stayed with the family for a number of years and while the parents worked, Leanna spent a lot of time with her great grandmother who shared the hair dressing formula with her great granddaughter Leanna.

After so many compliments from classmates, a seven-year-old Leanna would siphon off portions into her one-year-old baby brother’s Gerber food jars, giving them to neighbors and friends. (Leanna’s mother told her to wait until college before she started thinking of selling the product. It turn out that the demand was too great).

As Leanna tells the story, “Checks started coming in the mail, people would stop by the house asking for $20 worth. I was getting orders before my parents knew.” She took her first $100, registered the company and got a business license on-line with the help of her computer savvy (computer technology and engineer) father Gregory. In June 2005, when she was eight, her dad set up a basic website so people could buy the product on-line.

The family went into production; the Central Islip basement housed the home/cottage industry. Dad Gregory quit his job to help run the company; he’s now Chief Operating Officer, COO. Leanna, as CEO, makes the product, handles email, packaging and fulfills orders. The whole family helps out.

Mom Marisa kept her job working with a disabled population and grouses, “Dad gets to go to all the awards ceremonies and speaking engagements like when Leanna was on a panel in Singapore with Young Champions–doctors, filmmakers, human rights activists. She was the youngest and the only entrepreneur.”

In 2007, Inc Magazine listed Leanna’s Hair Products as grossing $100,000 (by now, it’s $180,000+ and the line has expanded to 14 different hair products). In 2008 with the senior editor of Inc., Leanna presided over the Opening Bell of NASDAQ.

Her product was for a sale in Haiti at the women’s trade show “Femmes des Creation” five years ago. And three years ago in 2008, at age 13, Leanna finally travelled to Haiti for the first time when then-President Preval named her Child Ambassador of Haiti.

The trip for her was a real eye opener as to realities of life for so many children in Haiti. She had never experienced such things as children living in the streets, fending for their lives at age three. What she witnessed really registered, “I met kids who have never been to school, who have to take care of their family at an age I was playing with Barbie dolls.

“I didn’t understand why I had so many opportunities, like going to school. Here we have public schools and there everyone pays to go to school.” She recognized that some families didn’t have the money for food or clothes and the kids were forced to live on the streets.

“It hit me hard and I was frustrated with the thought of it. I didn’t think it was right. I’d ask people, ‘What about the street kids?’ They’d answer, ‘This is normal.’” She thought, “This is not normal!”

In November 2008, she started the Leanna Archer Education Foundation that now feeds and tutors about 200 orphans, ages 1-18, in the Tabarre section of Port-au-Prince.

She recently met Janet Jackson who told Leanna she wants to help her Foundation and also wants to go to Haiti. Leanna hopes these are not just empty words.

Leanna is frequently called to represent children or teens, often as a young entrepreneur. Recently she was nominated for a Teenpreneur Award from Black Enterprise — for youth ages 13-18. At a recent gathering of children at the U.N., Leanna read with students from PS-MS 4 in the Bronx a poem written to her – “Global Citizens of the World.”

In addition to her company, Leanna’s schedule of special events is very hectic, enough to ask her mom, “How are my grades at St. Anthony School in S. Huntington?” Mom Marisa gets excited, “I would kill her if she didn’t keep up her grades.” She’s an “A” student! Attending an Ivy League University is in Leanna’s sights for the future.