Sam the Entrepreneur

Sam is an energetic 12-year-old who loves to swim, play chess and guitar, read and spend time with his friends. He is also a small business owner and entrepreneur. At the age of nine Sam decided to start his own business, making popcorn. He started it because he had grown tired of eating the same old flavoured popcorn that left a sugary, over-sweet taste in his mouth.

“I decided to try and make my own natural, fresh and delicious popcorn,” Sam says. “I started cooking in a pot on the stove and experimented with different flavours.”

Sam’s parents, Sean and Sally, supported him but made him sit down and draw up a list of all the things he had to do. “He had to do a food handling course, get insurance and an ABN,” says Sean. “We made him do a business plan and stressed that he had to design a website, packaging and arrange delivery.”

Sean and Sally made sure Sam did everything for himself. “We wanted to teach him about responsibility and accountability,” Sean says. After a lot of trial and error Sam developed what he thought was the best handmade gourmet popcorn on the market.

He started selling Sam’s Popcorn to friends and family and then got a big break when the City of Burnside offered to stock it at the Regal Theatre. “The Council was the first to really support Sam,” Sean says. “They saw a story about Sam in the Messenger paper and approached us.” Now people buy popcorn for the movie then buy more on the way out. A lot of movie goers have become regular customers.

Sam’s business has thrived and he supplies his primary school, Send a Gourmet Basket and Office Select. He recently used some of his profits to buy a second hand air popper machine. “The first time I used it, it set on fire!” Sam says. Apparently the thermostat was broken and it over heated. He is still working on getting the flavours right as the machine cooks the popcorn differently.

The family moved out of their Dernancourt home to Wayville and dedicated most of the house to Sam’s kitchen and storage. He cooks almost every day and does deliveries after school with Sally as his driver. When orders started flooding in Sam’s handwritten journal couldn’t keep up so Sally stepped in and took over the accounts side.

And he has become somewhat of a celebrity at school. “The Year 3 kids call out to me in the yard ‘Hi Sam’s Popcorn!’” he says. “And a group of Year 4 girls called me from their slumber party wanting some popcorn.” That was when Sean took over Sam’s mobile phone. “We try not to interfere at all,” says Sean. “But sometimes he needs our help.” Like the time he went online at the Tax Office to get a Tax File Number. When he entered his date of birth the program refused to accept it. “We got on the phone and explained and the staff member couldn’t believe it,” says Sean. “They had never had an application from a 10-year-old.”

Sam does not pay himself a wage and donates much of his profits to the Childhood Cancer Association as part of the Kids4Kids fundraising program.

He has had quite a bit of media coverage and has won awards. He was winner of the 7 News Young Achievers Awards (Leadership Category) for 2019 and recently visited Government House to help launch childhood Cancer Awareness Month. He is also the South Australian Ambassador for the Fred Hollow's Foundation after winning the Fred Hollow's Humanity Award in November last year.

In June this year Sam was guest speaker at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference ‘Thriving with Autism’ in Singapore. Sam says his autism is a benefit to his work. “A lot of people think of it as an obstacle but I don’t.” But he did struggle with one aspect – getting the labels straight on the packages. “The labels were slightly crooked and I couldn’t bear that,” he says. But as with all aspects of his business venture Sam persevered and found a solution.

As for his future, he starts high school next year at the Adelaide Botanic High School in the city and wants to study science and biology. He also has plans for a factory and retail outlet and hopes to get his produce into supermarkets. “I need to perfect some new flavours so I have a wide range,” he says. He is trying out apple and has plans for strawberry, lemon, blueberry and grape.

When asked if he used any of his profits for a personal treat he responds “I think the treat for me is people’s reaction to eating my popcorn.” Sam says the vacuum packed bags have a shelf life of 6 months but once opened “They are gone in five minutes! My popcorn is really good.”

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