Ribbon cutting at Trail Blaze store
Ribbon cutting at Trail Blaze store

For kids who plan to be business owners in the future, developing a business mindset while they are young will help teach them the importance of managing finances, cash flow, critical thinking skills and other necessary life skills.

That is the goal of Crystal Victoria, the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization Target Evolution, which she describes as the No. 1 after-school summer youth entrepreneurship program in Texas. They provide education resources for young people ages 12-24 to start a small business to help them earn money to pay for college while learning financial literacy and leadership skills.

They host the Teen Biz Camp, an eight-week program helping students build a business and product from scratch. Their signature Trail Blaze store located in the Galleria in Houston and Dallas is where the students sell their products to customers. Victoria spoke with the Defender about the program’s impact on Houston youth.

Defender: Tell us about yourself.

Crystal Victoria: I’m an entrepreneur, a published author of four books and a college textbook, and I’m originally from Dallas. I lived here in Houston for five years. I moved with the entire goal of expanding my organization here and to have the same programming that the Dallas kids have. We primarily focus on African American youth, but our program is for kids of all races and backgrounds.

Defender: As the founder of Teen Biz Camp what sets you apart from other after-school programs?

Victoria: What sets us apart is that we help our kids make money. The students who either work in our stores as staff employees make about $12 to $15 an hour. The young entrepreneurs who have their products featured in our stores keep a percentage of their income from their sales. On average our kids make anywhere from $400 to $700 a month.

Defender: How does the Teen Biz Camp operate?

Victoria: It’s an eight-week program. Kids receive a laptop to create a product that they want to sell in our Trail Blaze store. We have experts as well as our management team to teach and guide the youth during the camp. This summer we anticipate 50 kids and 100 in total for this year. You can get into Trail Blaze in one of two ways. You can either go through teen boot camp and put a product together to sell in the store, or if you have a product already, you can put your products on the shelf as well. You can rent shelf space for $150 a month. This helps the teens better interact with customers and develop their creative and critical thinking skills.

Defender: Trail Blaze store is located at the Galleria. What products by the teens are sold in stores?

Victoria: We sell jewelry, cosmetics, custom shoes, makeup, hair oil and much more.

Defender: What are some core skills that children are taught that they may be lacking in schools?

Victoria: Communication, networking skills and the ability to sell. These days kids are so attached to social media that they find it difficult to hold a conversation face to face. Everyone they talk to could be a potential customer. It’s as simple as saying hello to everybody that comes into the store and knowing that everyone that walks in might not be in my target audience but they know someone who might be.

The most important core skill is the social emotional element. It’s great when you have a peer support group. I’m fascinated about their ability to go to school and participate in all the activities they do. They learn about time management. As a business person you’ll naturally run into problems on a daily basis and you’ll have to think critically about finding solutions.

They also learn how to manage money because they have to pay rent to sell their products on the shelves. We allow a portion of their sales to cover rent. They have to make a minimum of $200 a month to stay in the store. I make sure they paid rent and have money in their pocket. They learn how save money to get their inventory. Statistically, only 25% of out kids in the program actually decide to continue beyond a year. Kids see the value in their business and look forward to going to college to expand their skills to improve their business knowledge. These businesses also help bring the extra income they need to save for college instead of taking out loans.

Defender: The pandemic caused a major scare for businesses everywhere. Did it impact the teen businesses in any way?

Victoria: Our stores closed for a couple of months during the height of the pandemic. The kids already had online stores so they had to learn how to drive traffic to their stores. The teen boot camp transitioned online but the results didn’t translate well from our data because it’s a popular onsite program. These kids were no more happy about transitioning online than the staff.

Defender: Any updates?

Victoria: I tell people we manage funding by way of workforce contracts, currently about 15 counties and the Fort Worth Metro. We are currently working to get those same contracts [in Houston]. People love to see their tax dollars at work and that’s exactly what you will see here. We just entered into a major partnership with a property group that will be covering the cost of the building out our stores for the next five years. They were excited about creating a real pipeline for the kids. Working in the Trail Blaze store puts you in the position to leave the store and apply to the next retail store.

Ribbon cutting at Trail Blaze store

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...