Young entrepreneur looks to next endeavor

He has written a book, served as one of South Kitsap High School’s commencement speakers and run businesses.

But Ethan Kalkwarf said Relay for Life made a greater impact on him than any other activity.

Kalkwarf, 18, chaired Relay for Life of South Kitsap this year and he said the prospect of retaining that position was the impetus for him electing to remain in Port Orchard for another year.

He said he is inspired by survival stories he has heard since he started participating in the event in 2007. Kalkwarf, who said Relay for Life of South Kitsap raised more than $150,000 this year, added that seeing longtime friends and family being diagnosed with cancer has been the “driving force” behind his involvement in the event.

It won’t be his only endeavor during the coming year. Kalkwarf jokingly said before his school’s commencement June 8 at the Tacoma Dome that he almost never sleeps. That might not be too much of an exaggeration, though.

Now, for the first time in memory, Kalkwarf has no immediate obligations. As a 6-year-old, Kalkwarf found himself looking at gift tags on the computer around Thanksgiving. That experience birthed the concept to create and print stickers.

He sold sheets of eight tags for $1.25 each to family members, and his business, Ethan’s Paper Products, was up and running. Kalkwarf also runs Phase 5 Designs, which focuses on building and upgrading websites for companies, out of his bedroom to save overhead expenses. He chronicled those experiences in a 160-page self-published 2010 book, “Teen Entrepreneur.”

At the time, he said the goal of the book was to get others his age to do “something extraordinary with their lives.”

Kalkwarf began cultivating his business acumen even before discovering the desktop publishing software to create the gift tags. He ran lemonade stands and posted signs advertising for Ethan’s Vacuuming Service on neighbors’ doors in hopes of earning money. Kalkwarf acknowledged it was not traditional for someone his age, but that the experiences have allowed him to develop business strategies.

He upgraded the quality of the Christmas stickers he sold for several years — Kalkwarf even attended holiday conventions to find new ideas — and created a catalog. When his concept became popular, he hired friends to assist him.

Later, he decided to transition Ethan’s Paper Products to a company that focuses on business cards and other items focused on professionals.

Kalkwarf, who has filed a tax return since 2007, does not discuss his finances other than to say he typically makes more than someone his age.

He acknowledges that has come with a lot of help along the way.

Kalkwarf was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition where the optic disc appears abnormally small, as a baby. The condition has rendered Kalkwarf unable to drive, which he said is a challenge because of his involvement in the community and with business leaders.

“I have a very supportive family and friends who drive me everywhere,” said Kalkwarf, adding that he likely will settle in a large metropolitan area where he has quick access to public transportation.

But next he will take classes online through Liberty University and then move to Lynchburg, Va., to attend school there in 2013. He plans to major in marketing.

For now, he is just excited to take a little time off. Well, at least a few days.

“I’m not used to having free time,” Kalkwarf said. “Right now I’m trying to find my next project.”


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