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Meet the 16-year-old Aucklander who has the attention of Silicon Valley

When Zach Monk sets up his second start-up venture in January, he’s got a problem most other entrepreneurs don’t encounter – being too young to register a company.

Monk is just 16, and a Year 12 student at Western Springs College in central Auckland. During the school holidays he is planning to set up a dropshipping ecommerce business with his brother – just to keep his hand in between exams and the start of the next school year.

His first business – environmental food wrap company Wrap It Up, was established earlier this year with a group of school friends as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, a competition where groups of students set up a real business. This experience of running a company was the first stage along a road which saw him win an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley. And there he (and five other young NZ entrepreneurs) visited 14 organisations, including Microsoft, Stanford University, Apple, Zero, Instagram/Facebook, Renaissance Leadership, and Uber.

Zach Monk.

Zach isn’t expecting dropshipping to make him a fortune, or win him another major overseas trip. But he’s keen to learn more about the nuts and bolts of being an entrepreneur, as he heads towards his career goal of being a CEO – of his own or someone else’s company.

“What I learnt from Silicon Valley is about not being scared to go after something you are interested in and have ambitions to do. In the course of this year I’ve gone from thinking ‘Oh it might be cool to get involved in the Young Enterprise Scheme’, to finding myself in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurial hotspot of the world.”

He says meeting with people like Vaughan Smith (Facebook vice president of mobile, corporate and business development), and Ben Anderson, founder of global recruitment company Renaissance Leadership, has revolutionised his view of what might be possible.

Both Smith and Anderson are Kiwis who made good in Silicon Valley, and they passed on the message ‘Go for it’.

“They said ‘Be ambitious’. The US doesn’t have that tall poppy syndrome where you don’t celebrate your school and work achievements. They talked about being up front about your goals, taking advantage of opportunities you have. And they said that there are lots of people out there that will support you.”

Zach’s path to California started at the end of Year 11, when he heard about the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) and decided to put a team together. One of his teachers told him about a reusable, non-plastic alternative to cling film using cotton material coated with beeswax. The beeswax coating means the product will stick to itself or a container when you wrap it around a sandwich or leftovers, but it’s also biodegradable and can be rinsed clean – for a few weeks at least, until the beeswax loses its tackiness.

Zach and his team put together a business plan and started manufacturing and selling the product. And after a couple of Dragon’s Den contests, they reached the competition’s regional finals. Zach won the Entrepreneur of the Year award for the West Auckland region.

The experience inspired Zach to enter another Young Enterprise Trust business challenge, Enterprise in Action, and success there led to him being chosen for an individual challenge – which in turn led to Silicon Valley.

“I’d always seen stories of young entrepreneurs and people that started companies. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly, and I didn’t think there would be so many resources out there to help. I’ve met amazing people through YES – mentors and others, and I’ve realised the learning is out there.”

The next stop is a week on a Creative NZ workshop early next year – again all-expenses-paid. Eventually, Zach would like to lead a social enterprise, though he’s not clear what yet.

“I like the model where you create profit and create a solution to a problem at the same time. For example, Lovenotes, a company which makes stationary for people from their own waste paper. That’s really clever.

“My generation are sometimes called lazy, but actually we are lucky to have a lot of different potential business models, like social entrepreneurship. We just need to take up those opportunities.”

Chief editor at Idealog, Nikki's a veteran in the journalism industry. A former lecturer at AUT University, she was the chief reporter at NZ weekly business publication The Independent and was deputy editor of Canadian publication Unlimited magazine.

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