NEW YORK (Reuters) - Miroslav Bergen thought he would be"terrified" at meeting Warren Buffett, but he was wrong.
Miro, 14, was one of the winners of "Grow Your Own Business Challenge," a nationwide contest related to the animated "Secret Millionaires Club," which teaches children about finance and where Buffett voices his own character. "He's a nice, down-to-earth person," said Miro, who lives in Short Hills, New Jersey. "I entered this competition not really as an entrepreneur because I wasn't experienced in business. But I had an idea. Now business people are giving me advice."
The contest, in its fourth year, attracted entries from more than 4,000 boys and girls ages 7 to 14. The top entrants flew to Omaha, Nebraska to be judged and show Buffett their ideas. "You're looking at the future and it's a pretty good looking future," Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc and the world's third-richest person according to Forbes magazine, said in an interview.
Bergen won for "Beyond the Books," a website that lets people work together to create online courses and study guides, in a "Wikipedia of education." People would pay to advertise, or pay a monthly fee to have ads removed.
Bryn Hansen, 11, and Emily Harkins, 12, of Omaha, won the team contest for "Keep Track Sticky Back," sealable plastic pouches costing US$7.99 to US$66.99 that have sticky backs so they can be attached to nearly anything. "This competition has taught us a lot, not just business skills but also cost-evaluation, problem-solving skills, and business etiquette, and how to interact with other people," said Emily, who was on "cloud nine" after winning.
Winners each got US$5,000, and said they plan to invest it toward their businesses. Bryn and Emily may also seek a patent.
Buffett gave each finalist 10 Class B shares of Berkshire -if they vote to reelect him next year as chairman.
Many entries were pure online concepts. That is a change from when Buffett would buy Coca-Cola six-packs at his grandfather's grocery store for 25 cents, and then sell bottles for a nickel each.
"They've had the benefit of the Internet," Buffett said,"and that's reflective of the products they've come up with. They are leagues ahead of where I was at the same age."
Still, Buffett remains a role model.
"He has a ton of inspirational quotes to believe in yourself, to save money, and maybe someday grow up to be someone like him," Bryn said.