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Natalie Merrill, 12, and The Daniels Fund President and CEO Linda Childears show off Natalie's jewelry. Childears will be mentoring Natalie. Photo by Courtesy of Jay Clark, Lonewolf Communications

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A few years ago, Natalie Merrill borrowed money to start a business built around a product she couldn’t find anywhere else — foot jewelry that also can be worn as necklaces or bracelets.She has paid back the loan, and has a sales plan with ideas for expansion.Not bad for a 12-year-old.“It really started just for fun and it’s become much more than that,” she said.Natalie started her Buttons ‘r Knots foot jewelry business in 2009 and has grown it through internet sales, craft fairs and local merchants. The jewelry can be worn as necklaces or bracelets, too.The pieces are for fashionistas of all ages, she said, “someone who likes to be fashionable in everything, no matter where.”The seventh-grader at The Classical Academy College Pathways said her family has played a big part in her business, and she credits them for supporting, encouraging and continuing to help.“They make it fun,” she said, adding that it was her grandma that helped her come up with a new kind of jewelry when they couldn’t find pretty things for feet. Natalie’s favorite colors to design with are blues, pinks and purples, and flowers are a favorite motif.“My friends love it,” she said, adding that a recent prize for her company increased the cool factor.Natalie was one of three students in the state to be honored as part of the 10th annual “Celebration for Young Entrepreneurs Contest” through Young American Center for Financial Education earlier this fall.More than 50 businesses owned and operated by kids ages 6 to 21 from across Colorado competed. The three winning companies are all more than two years old and provided a solid business plan and detailed financial reports, and demonstrated growth and market demand.Natalie took home a $1,000 cash prize. That will help buy a laptop that will be used mostly for school, but also for the online portion of Buttons ‘r Knots, she said. For Natalie, just as significant a prize is the chance to work with and learn from a mentor, specifically The Daniels Fund President and CEO Linda Childears.Natalie said she hopes Childears can help with the math side of business, specifically how to keep track of sales and expenses longterm.“I started my business when I was 10. Over the past two years, my designs have gotten better and my business has improved. I have also grown in my people skills, confidence and business knowledge,” Natalie said. “The desire to create and sell an interesting product has kept me focused on pursuing this business. I intend to press on.”DetailsNatalie Merrill sells her jewelry at craft fairs and farmers markets around the state, and online at—Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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