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Young Shorewood Entrepreneur Returns to Sustainability Summit

S Bence

As a high school freshman, Cole Compton introduced his Green Earth Terrariums at Milwaukee's 2014 Sustainability Summit. This year, he was a presenter.

He was working his way through an entrepreneurship program called Teens Grow Greens, through which he fine-tuned his product. It’s a miniature ecosystem, usually for growing plants.

Credit Charles Uihlein
Cole Compton was busy on first day of 2015 summit.

Then came his successful debut at the 2014 Sustainability Summit. Cole brought along only a few of his terrariums but quickly had to restock.

His original model is a modest globe-shaped container. “That is just called the normal air plant Green Earth Terrarium,” Cole says.

It led to new versions, including a hanging one that has three different kinds of moss with one air plant.

Last month, he branched out into succulents – plants that don’t require much watering. The 16-year-old says he’s responding to demand.

“Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for succulents because people want more of an actual planted, rooted terrarium, instead of just an air plant sitting on moss,” Cole says.

Cole has also started selling his terrariums to the Outpost Coop on Capitol Drive. He still can’t believe it.

“I went to the corporate office and met him at this huge long table and it was a huge deal for me because it was the first time I ever pitched the product, but he loved them and that day we made a deal,” Cole says.

The he at Outpost is Zack Hepner. He says terrariums were trending and the teen was ahead of the curve.

“This is a really good feel-good story, but Cole has also been an excellent job from a business standpoint. So part of our criteria it needs to be priced at what people will find value in and it’s all made locally, it’s made by hand – that’s big plus for us as Outpost tries to transition more of our sales to local products,” Hepner says.

Hepner describes Cole as a nimble entrepreneur, and one who’s taken another leap into the known.

Credit S Bence
Cole Compton starts his quail enterprise small - with three birds in the basement.

The two are in discussion about developing a new product line – quail eggs.

“We get requests for off-the-wall eggs like quail and duck eggs and Cole has proven to do such a good job with the terrariums, I would not have a problem helping him out and trying them out,” Hepner says.

So the Compton family home now serves as terrarium and quail central. Box upon box of moss line the dining room wall.

The quail reside in the basement. Mom Jill Compton couldn’t be more supportive, despite the fact that creatures aren’t her thing.

She stays upstairs, while we head below to visit the small egg layers.

The quail have started laying eggs. Cole draws out a specimen – ping pong ball in size, with a beautiful marbled pattern.

By April, he’ll move the operation outside and hopes to increase his flock, so he can cultivate markets for his eggs.

“Eventually to sell to local restaurants and obviously to Outpost and eventually I would like to bring the quail and the quail hatching into classrooms,” Cole says.

The sophomore splits his academic life between Shorewood High School and a charter school on the same campus.

Cole thinks back to a short year ago and how nervous he was about debuting at the Sustainability Summit.

Now he stood shoulder to shoulder with other innovators and spoke about his start up.

Credit S Bence
Cole with his mom Jill Compton.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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