Young Entrepreneurs Focus on Philanthropy
Brothers Ben And Grant Mize Combine Business Savvy With Hearts Of Gold
By Mara Soloway
If you saw their business résumés, you might think that brothers Ben and Grant Mize had already earned bachelors of business administration degrees and were out in the working world. Each has had a successful business for several years, and together they have a few hundred return customers who sought them out at the recent Sugar Plum Market and who regularly order through their company websites. Each handcrafts their products that they researched and developed themselves. Each gives a portion of profits to causes that have meaning to them.
The reality is both of these social entrepreneurs are bright and engaging straight-A students at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sugar Land: fifth-grader Ben is 11 and seventh-grader Grant will be 13 in March. With a young person’s ability to see a clear solution to a problem without constraints, and with encouragement and support from parents Heather and Mark, Ben has given a total of $5,000 to cancer research. Grant has given to charities that benefit military veterans and others in need of support. In February, the family is traveling to Colorado to the corporate headquarters of his current charity, Freedom Service Dogs of America, so that Grant can give the organization a check for $1,250, which will bring his total to $2,500.
When he was in second grade in 2013, Ben’s friend Caleb was diagnosed with leukemia. Caleb’s family explained to the Mizes that their hands were becoming cracked and dried due to constant hand washing necessary so they could be near Caleb, whose immune system was weakened due to chemotherapy. “I came up with the idea to have a moisturizing soap as a way to help the family with their dry skin,” said Ben, who came home one afternoon and asked if he could combined soap and lotion to see what would happen. He grabbed leftover bottles of each from under the kitchen sink and came up with his first product. He called it Soap + Lotion = Soshen. He made a bottle for Caleb’s family, and they were very appreciative.
“That led to Ben to think maybe he could make Soshen and sell it and donate $2 of each bottle to Texas Children’s Hospital for children’s cancer research,” Heather said. “That put him on a mission!” In the meantime his friend Peyton also was diagnosed with leukemia, and he wanted to raise money for her as well. Thankfully, after three years, Caleb rang the victory bell over the disease in December.
Ben initially made his products in small batches, mixing the ingredients and slowly pouring them into the containers, bottle by bottle. “My dad came up with a great way of speeding up the mixing and filling process. Now we mix with a paddle mixer and fill with a five-gallon bucket with a spigot and hose inserted in it,” Ben explained.
Soshen products include scented and unscented hand soaps, super soothers (a product made of shea butter, coconut oil, beeswax and essential oil packaged in a tube), and sugar scrubs used to exfoliate dead skin, all of which come in packaged gift sets. The products have a long shelf life when kept away from heat.
A year after Ben created Soshen, Grant’s fifth-grade science fair project examined the burn rate of soy, beeswax or paraffin (man-made) candle wax. He made his own candles for this experiment so that he could control all the elements, and his results showed that all-natural candles burn cleaner and longer than paraffin candles.
This gave Grant the idea to also start a company, which he called Sweetwater Candle Company. He mainly sells soy candles, but also has beeswax candles made from the wax of Texas bees. They come in glass jars for $12 and $15 and are scented with natural fragrances such as cinnamon spice, candy cane, vanilla and Grant’s favorite, lemon poundcake. “The natural beeswax candles help get dust out of the air so are helpful for people with allergies,” Ben said.
Grant’s parents encouraged him to also donate part of his profits, and he generously chose to give 20 percent. “I chose charities that support the military service members because I’m really grateful for the sacrifices they make for our country.” he said. His first choice, Wounded Warrior Project, received more than $1,200 from Grant. In 2016, he began donating to Freedom Service Dogs of America, which takes dogs from shelters and rescue groups and custom trains them to help people with a range of disabilities, including children, veterans and active duty military, and other adults.
“Now that I’ve chose Freedom Service Dogs of America I’m probably going to stick with them for awhile. They get a really good rating, and I like that they take rescue dogs and give them to veterans to help them when they get home from a war,” Grant said. He himself rescued his dog, Dixie, with his own money when he was nine years old with the $150 he had in his wallet at the time. “Not only did Grant pay for her then, but he continues to pay for her dog food and knows that adopting a pet is a big commitment,” Heather said. “Knowing that he has been able to give her a good life has meant a lot to him.”
In the very beginning, the brothers would make the products as the orders came in, but have learned to economize on their time by making them over a period of time in the summer, then filling website orders as needed during the week. They both keep busy: Grant plays basketball and is the middle school band and both boys are outdoorsmen – Grant likes to hunt and Ben enjoys fishing.
The first big event for the novice business owners was gearing up to be vendors at the 2015 Sugar Plum Market.“When we were first going to go to Sugar Plum Market, we heard there could 7,500 people there and that maybe 1,500 would come to our booth. We didn’t even see how that could be possible,” Ben said. They closed 400 orders – about one every three minutes – giving them good information on how to prepare for the 2016 market. The boys occasionally attend the Farmer’s Market at Imperial, but the Sugar Plum Market and their websites are the main focus.
While they both have had interest from investors to help them grow the companies, Mark and Heather want their sons to learn the value of hard work by making and selling their own products. “We’re trying to help them understand that it’s taken two and three years to build a good customer base that’s coming back for more, now seeking them both out,” said Heather. “Those customers aren’t looking for the products to be made somewhere else or in a factory.”
“I want to expand little by little each year, maybe adding scented things you can plug into your wall. I want to keep going,” Grant said. Ben will focus more on his sugar scrubs and soothers in 2017 and has started a YouTube channel called Cooking with Ben on which he shows viewers how to make healthy foods such as avocado-chocolate pudding, chicken soup and yucca fries.
“Ben’s going to be business person, there’s no doubt,” Mark said.
Although it’s a few years away, Grant already sees himself becoming a veterinarian. “I really like math and science and have experience as a hunter so I know the anatomy already.” Heather feels he has compassion and love for animals.
“We very much feel that God has given everyone talents to use, and it is up to us to figure what they are and how to use them to bless those around us. Both of them make us proud – they have their priorities in place and know what matters,” Heather said.
“Heather and I absolutely love what they do. They are both smart and well rounded. We feel very honored to raise two boys who like giving back to good solid organizations,” Mark said. “We look forward to what they will accomplish as the years roll by.”