Penn became the CEO of her own business in 2008 when she was 8 years old. Her business, “Maya’s Ideas,” gives part of its profits to local and global charities.
“My parents taught me at an early age about giving back and being a good steward to the environment, and I always want to tie that back in to everything I do,” said Penn of Cherokee County “When I started my business, I wanted to make all my items eco-friendly, like use organic materials and also donate 10 to 20 percent of the profits to charities.”
Her business began when she started designing clothing and accessories, which she sells in an online store, and grew to include her books. She also manages her own nonprofit organization, “Maya’s Ideas 4 The Planet.”
“I think it’s really important for people to understand what’s going on with their planet and what they can do about it, and girls’ and women’s rights,” Penn said.
Her dad, John Penn, said he and his wife decided to homeschool their daughter, and they wanted to incorporate their family values into the curriculum.
“Both my parents were educators so I’ve always believed in making sure that Maya had a proper curriculum that was designed for her,” he said.
He said he and his wife wanted to be sure the curriculum’s core concepts encouraged free thinking and empowerment.
“I’m a really proud dad. She’s become her own person,” he said. “From an early age, I think Maya was on a path to this kind of success.”
Penn describes herself as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, designer, artist, animator, illustrator and writer. She just published her second book, which she wrote and illustrated to teach children about the importance of being good stewards of the environment.
“Two characters named Lucy and Sammy go on an adventure to stop this pollution monster who is polluting the city, and they explain why it’s important to recycle and different things like that,” Penn said. “It’s a fun book for everybody.”
The 20-page book, “Lucy and Sammy Save the Environment,” was funded in part by a grant Penn received from The Pollination Project.
“I’m working on some other books for the future, for older kids and teens,” she added.
Penn’s dad said he and his wife tried to give their daughter an enriching experience early in life.
“Just like with most parents, we want to give our kids the best opportunity in life. We started her out, even before she was born. Music is a big part of our life, so we made sure Maya got stimulus, even in utero,” he said. “Being aware of what we did in the first nine months and in the first few years of her life can have a big impact on what she’s doing now.”
Along with publishing books and creating clothing, Penn manages an online blog and animates her own short films.
Her dad said that when Penn was 3 years old, she showed them flipbooks and said she wanted to be an animator.
“We gave her more tools. Both my wife and I encouraged her. When we recognized the talent, we encouraged her to continue that,” he said.
Penn was invited to speak at the TEDWomen conference in San Francisco earlier in December, a conference focused on innovation. She said it was an amazing experience.
She got to meet and become friends with one of her heroes at the conference, Diana Nyad, who set a record for swimming from Cuba to Florida.
“I was really excited to hear Diana Nyad speak. I’m a big fan,” Penn said. “She’s done so many amazing things, she’s really strong and she’s a really amazing woman.”
As she moves forward, Penn said she wants to continue animating and giving back. Penn is working on two animated films right now. One is about a team of superhero bees who will help teach teens and children about the importance of pollination and the environment, and the other is about computer viruses.
“I premiered them both at TEDWomen,” Penn said, adding that one would be released early next year.
Penn’s books, clothing, accessories, blog, biography, TEDWomen video, information on her nonprofit and online store can be found at her website, MayasIdeas.com.