Leadership in Action: Small Business Owner at Age 15

By Lindsay Yost

Aug 13, 2015

Adam and His STOKES Firestarters Adam and his product, STOKES Firestarters. Photo by Dennis Stein.

At age 14, Adam Liszewski completed a NOLS Northeast Backpacking course in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York. Just a year prior, at age 13, Liszewski had started a business called STOKES All Natural Firestarters. In catching up with Adam, now 15, here is what I have learned about both the growth of his business and his reflections on his NOLS experience.

Taking this course was and is by far the best experience I have had. Next summer I hope to do the Wyoming course. While on my NOLS Northeast course, I made many friends, ones that I hope to have for a long time. One of the best parts of the course were my instructors; they were tremendous and fun teachers! I am forever grateful for the lessons they shared with me.

The year before I took that course I had started a business called STOKES All Natural Firestarters. STOKES started out as homemade holiday gifts made with dryer lint, melted candle stubs and used egg crates donated from family and friends. Now STOKES has become a full-blown company, and I have recently moved into my first warehouse space.

In the beginning, I had started making STOKES in my kitchen, producing only three dozen a day. Then STOKES was moved into the basement, and later that year, we moved production to the garage. At the time, this to me felt like a gigantic leap forward. And now I am in a warehouse producing 200-300 dozen a day. To get to that level of production, I partnered with Charles River Center out of Needham Mass. Charles River Center works with developmentally disabled adults. It is a really great experience for me to work with them and I think they really like working with me making STOKES.

Practicing Navigation at NOLS Northeast Practicing leadership skills and navigation in the Adirondacks. Photo by KG Kagambi.

During my NOLS course I really honed the skill of perseverance. This skill has helped me in many ways with my company, especially when it comes to sales. I make these calls after school and on weekends. Sometimes it takes five calls to the same person to get a response. Sometimes people take the call right away and say yes. Others aren’t interested at all.

But mostly, I have been fortunate to have very supportive individuals cross my path, offering me their help from areas like marketing to packaging to suppliers, and ultimately to stores that take a chance on STOKES. They trust me, a rising sophomore in high school, to deliver to them a product on time that is well made, that works, and is reasonably priced.

I really believe that my experience with NOLS has given me the discipline to stick with it through good days and bad.

Visit Adam's website to learn more about STOKES, and visit the NOLS website to learn more how you can develop leadership skills to serve you in school, work, and beyond.

Cover photo by KG Kagambi.

Related Posts
Take Your Cooking Outdoors: Interview with Expedition Chef Mary Brent Galyean
Beyond My City Life: Horsepacking in the Rockies
The Value of Hot Sauce: Thoughts from a Backpacking Course

Written By

Lindsay Yost

Up Next

four students hike across a snowfield on Mt Kilimanjaro, as viewed through a crack in a melting glacier

Expedition Science on the Slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro

four students hike across a snowfield on Mt Kilimanjaro, as viewed through a crack in a melting glacier
Students walk alongside a receding ice field at 19,000 feet in the summit caldera of Mt. Kilimanjaro. After a successful summit, their next mission is to gather data on Kilimanjaro's largest remaining glacier. Photo by Mara Gans.

I was challenged in two realms on this course—scientific research and outdoor skills. It was incredible to realize how deeply connected these two worlds are. As someone incredibly passionate about the outdoors, I feel that the science aspect of this course further enhanced my understanding of my actions in the outdoor world.Emilie Ginn, Tanzania Scientific Research Expedition

Read More