Nicole Mason serves as the National CEO of Lemonade Day, a non-profit committed to preparing youth for life by instilling an entrepreneurial spirit. For 15 years, Lemonade Day has offered youth K-8 an entrepreneurial and experiential program infused with life skills, character development, financial and business literacy, and mentorship. Their vision is for all children to be introduced to entrepreneurship through the real-world experience of starting their own business – a lemonade stand, the quintessential first business for young entrepreneurs.
Embracing the entrepreneurial mindset
As a proud first-generation college graduate, Nicole grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. Her parents came from modest means, and yet without a college education, they overcame hardship to build a successful international freight forwarding business. Nicole took the core values they instilled in her, along with the experience of watching her mother persevere through the challenges of running and expanding a business in a male-dominated industry, and used those paradigms to guide her into social entrepreneurism.
“Entrepreneurship is about much more than starting your own business. It’s a mindset – a way to define yourself, interact with the world around you, and make an impact on your community,” said Nicole. “At Lemonade Day, youth entrepreneurship education is a vehicle to teach essential and foundational skills and values. They help youth develop a mindset critical to navigating all aspects of life.”
Throughout her nearly 20-year career in non-profit, Nicole has taken her entrepreneurial mindset and connected this to the broader community to do good and be a part of something bigger than herself. Before joining Lemonade Day, she spent 12 years working in the affordable housing and homeless services field. That experience helped shape her belief in how incredibly important it is to teach values of entrepreneurship to children, especially minorities and underserved communities.
“It is imperative to break the cycle of generational poverty,” Nicole said. “Research shows that for every state that experiences a one percent increase in entrepreneurship, they see a two percent drop in the poverty rate.”
Building confidence through entrepreneurship
Building an entrepreneurial mindset also builds confidence and provides individuals of any age with the tools to achieve success.
Nicole learned for herself how the entrepreneurial mindset can help strengthen one’s confidence and self-esteem. As a child, Nicole was bullied and felt challenged to fit in with her peers. This had a lasting impact well into adulthood.
“My confidence and feelings of self-worth were strained. I had to navigate preconceived notions and misguided judgments. Imposter syndrome was often triggered. Over time, I learned how to adapt with poise and gravitas by connecting to people from their perceptions. I can’t change who I am, nor how people perceive me, but I can read a situation and respond to it with a tone and countenance that represents respect, consideration, and understanding. This technique has enabled me to overcome challenges and obstacles and inspire others through my passionate spirit,” said Nicole.
Traditionally, successful entrepreneurs have been comprised of older, Caucaisan men. As a young woman, Nicole learned to embody her petite size and stature and to harness her bubbly, energetic spirit. She soon developed a high level of confidence in her ability to motivate others. Rather than using her energy to fix her shortcomings and try to be someone else, she focused on developing her strengths.
“I found my voice to stand boldly behind my convictions and persuade people when necessary, not in a manipulative way, but in an intentional way that gets the job done and keeps people engaged and on board.”
Despite her ability to persuade others, Nicole constantly reminds herself not to become easily discouraged. She promotes with enthusiasm and stands down with grace. She is not afraid to admit fault, nor does she hesitate to seek counsel from trusted mentors.
“I align myself with strong women, experienced in their field. I allow myself to be vulnerable and transparent. I connect deeply with people. No connection is too small. You simply never know where it might take you,” she said.
“This is an entrepreneurial mindset at work. This is me as a minority leader – a creative, passionate, colorful, innovative, problem-solver, who hustles in a meaningful and purposeful way to inspire others and enact social change.”
Lemonade Day’s impact on youth development
Through her work at Lemonade Day, Nicole has seen firsthand the effect the program has on youth development of skill-building, self-esteem, confidence, and future life stories. Lemonade Day’s founder, Michael Holthouse often says, “Attributes of a successful entrepreneur correlate to those of being a successful, thriving human being.”
Nicole shared the story of Brianna Garcia of Lomita, California, a young girl who embodies this mantra.
“Named Lemonade Day’s 2021 National Youth Entrepreneur of the Year, Brianna followed our 3-pronged approach to set a goal, make a plan, and work the plan to achieve her dreams. By operating her very own business, she learned the important tenets of our program and was encouraged to spend some on herself for her hard work, save some and open a bank account, and share some with a charity of her choice.
With each and every activity of the program, you can visibly see her self-esteem and confidence grow. She persevered through every challenge and was incredibly innovative to differentiate her business by making frozen lemonade and incorporating another business venture: her handmade necklaces and bracelets and lemon-scented slime. As Brianna proclaims, ‘Now that I have had the chance to run my own stand and see how great being an entrepreneur is, I am going to continue doing it!’ Brianna is now working with her parents and the Lomita Chamber of Commerce President to secure a real business license and kitchen license so she can operate at local events outside of Lemonade Day.
Entrepreneurs take risks, believe they can realize their dream if they work hard, take responsibility, and act as good stewards of their resources. Today’s youth share that optimism but lack the life skills, mentorship, and work experience necessary to be successful. We at Lemonade Day want to build self-esteem and new mindsets that can propel youth to success they likely would not have pursued otherwise.”
For aspiring entrepreneurs of any age looking to achieve success, Nicole says it is important to first define what it means to be successful for you. Determine how you want to leave a great legacy in life. To achieve your dreams, be sure to align yourself with a purpose and with people who share your core values.
“Leave your heart in each encounter in life, maximize the beauty of connecting with others, and use your talents to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Then rock it like no other with grace, humility, dignity, elegance, and integrity. And don’t forget to have fun and celebrate often!”