2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas

Tech Education For Kids

While kids today are typically more computer-savvy than their parents, plenty don't have access to computer science training. And with the Commerce Department predicting that 1.4 million new skilled IT professionals will be needed in the next six years, now's the time to help kids develop the proficiency they're capable of.

Jim Beach, 33, and Douglas Murphy, 34, founders of American Computer Experience Inc. (ACE), know about being young and awed by new technology. Self-described "computer nerds," Beach and Murphy wanted to pick up skills but couldn't find instruction. To fill the void, they launched ACE in 1993, an Atlanta company that now instructs about 15,000 children each summer-in everything from pressing "power" to C++, Dynamic Flash and setting up a LAN-in 85 locations worldwide. Sure, an 800-line ran into their homes for two years, but the founders made ACE cash-flow-positive from the beginning, earning $56,000 their first year and about $6 million per year after that, all before VC funding.

ACE's sales should hit $15 million this year, and a VC infusion has allowed the company to expand its services into the after-school market and boys and girls clubs. That's on top of the classes (taught by undergrad computer science majors) already offered both in-person and online via ACEplanet.com, where for $15, 7- to 16-year-olds can take live courses. ACE also offers training camps for girls with allGIRLplanet, which is supported by women in high-tech positions. There will be more camps held this summer.

With the Internet education market reaping nearly $100 billion annually, you can bet on positive feedback . . . especially if you keep the focus on the kids. "Children should learn computers in a fun and engaging way," says Beach. "We teach them that it's cool to be smart."

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas.

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