When we first set out to put together an article on teen entrepreneurs, it sounded simple enough. We knew there were plenty of teens out there running their own businesses, and we thought it would be great to talk to some of them and find out what they did to get started.
Simple. Or was it?
As we quickly found out, it is actually quite a complex topic. And it's not for lack of teen entrepreneurs-because our assumption was correct that we wouldn't have trouble finding them. What we didn't bet on was that there would be this incredible wave of entrepreneurship sweeping the nation, infecting today's teens with the virus known as wannahavemyownbusinessitis. It has been somewhat quiet, slowly rumbling beneath the surface of our downtrodden economy and rising up in our schools, our youth entrepreneurship programs, our very consciousness.
Now, we see, quite clearly, that today's teens are quickly becoming tomorrow's leaders. Some of them are barely into their high school years; some of them are heading off to college to further educate themselves in the intricacies of entrepreneurship. All of them are truly amazing.
Shazad Mohamed, 15
He was trained from the womb for business, his father says-exposed to everything from the theory of the universe to the origins of life, along with healthy doses of classical music, opera and other kinds of music. That's a logical explanation, considering the fact that Shazad Mohamed first sat in front of a computer at age 3. At 8, he started to really focus his attention on computers, and at 12, he founded his company, GlobalTek Solutions Inc., an e-business solutions provider in Carrollton, Texas.
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With the full support of his parents and the entrepreneurial spirit burning within, Mohamed says starting a business just seemed natural. "I'd been interested in business for a long time," he says. "The technology industry was booming, and I saw a great opportunity."
This business-savvy teen set up shop in 1999 and now expects several million in sales for 2002. And according to Mohamed, his youth isn't really an issue. "While there may be initial shock about [my] age," he says, "when we get down to it, people realize we're a very solid company, so it doesn't really become that big of a factor."
With all this success under his belt, Mohamed has no intention of slowing down. Currently seeking venture funding to expand his service offering, he wants to turn GlobalTek Solutions into a multibillion-dollar company in the next decade. Oh, and he plans to get his Harvard MBA in a few years. For Mohamed, it's just all in a day's work. -Nichole L. Torres
Kayla Stewart, 19
When Kayla Stewart's clogging teacher offered her the reins of his dance studio last year, the decision wasn't a difficult one. Although in her last semester of high school and mired in college and scholarship applications, Stewart, who had been taking clogging lessons at the studio since age 9, didn't hesitate to take him up on the offer.
Stewart now pays rent on the Powell, Wyoming, studio to its former owner and choreographs and teaches all six classes a week by herself. So far, she has modeled the studio very closely to how it was run by her predecessor, including putting on the traditional yearly performances, although this year she hopes to organize a few novel performances for her dancers. Sales last year reached $8,000, and she expects $12,000 in 2002.
So how has Stewart changed as a teen entrepreneur? "Running a business makes you more assertive because you have to deal with everyone," says Kayla, now 19 and in her first year at Northwest College in Powell. "You have to know what you want and not get pushed around." -Gisela M. Pedroza
Stephen R. Gordon, 18
Stephen R. Gordon Web Site
Turning a fun hobby into a business is a dream of many. Doing it in junior high school? That's a success of a select few. Take Stephen R. Gordon of Fort Gratiot, Michigan, who started his Web site design business in 1997, at age 14. He already possessed a keen interest in computers and Web design when he decided to devote himself to learning all the ins and outs of technology during junior high.
Gordon's father, a medical illustrator, hooked him up with his first clients: doctors. "He'd been getting some inquiries about Web site design [from his own clients]," says Gordon. "It seemed like something I could do."
That level-headed approach has continued: Gordon has built his client list strictly via word-of-mouth, amassing about $40,000 in sales since starting his business. Last year, The National Association for the Self-Employed also named Gordon Future Entrepreneur of the Year, a title that included a $24,000 scholarship, which Gordon is putting to good use at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Gordon plans to continue the business throughout college but is not sure where it will go after that. The most rewarding part of his journey so far? "Just being able to say at my age that I've accomplished something that many people use and appreciate." -Nichole L. Torres
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Chris Delany, 19
"Success comes when you start young." These wise words from 19-year-old Chris Delany pretty much sum up his approach to starting his own business. This Mount St. Mary's College sophomore is already on his second business, a real-time investment consulting Web site, www.wallstreetprodigy.
Delany sold his first business, a disc jockey venture, two years ago. The then 17-year-old wasn't idle-he immediately started putting together WallStreetProdigy and formally launched the Avon, New Jersey, business in January 2002.
Still, even with all his passion, he and co-founder/COO Dennis Barrett, 20, find that convincing clients to trust young people for investment information and advice is a monumental challenge. "The people that take a chance realize we do know our stuff and we study the market," says Delany. "Getting the trust of people...that's our hardest selling point."
The company's other investment advisors are a little older-in their early 20s. But among them, they boast business educations from Notre Dame, Princeton and Wharton. A large part of their business, in fact, is educating people about investing. "We're a little different than most teens," says Delany. "We like to have a good time, but we also like to work." With $200,000 in projected sales for 2002, the good times are just beginning. -Nichole L. Torres
Rishi Bhat, 18
For someone who has started and sold two successful businesses, is taking computer science courses and starred in the movie The Indian in the Cupboard, Rishi Bhat is pretty down-to-earth. The 18-year-old chuckles when asked if he considers himself a genius, but how else can you describe someone who read software manuals as bedtime stories when he was 6 and sold his first company at age 16, in a deal worth $1.6 million?
Recognizing the need to protect privacy on the Internet, Bhat wrote the Internet privacy software that was to become SiegeSoft when he was 15 and had a little free time because a math class he'd planned on taking was canceled. It wasn't long before he was talking to an investor, Dave Hodge, who decided to purchase SiegeSoft. Not satisfied to rest on his laurels, the intrepid teen and his friend Chaitanya Mehra set to work on company No. 2, myEdesk.com, a program that allows you to access your desktop via any Web browser. Surprise, surprise: A casual conversation between Bhat and Hodge led the investor to buy myEdesk.com as well in 2000.
Now a high school senior, Bhat, who lives in Chicago, hopes to attend MIT in the fall and major in computer science and bioengineering. On the prospects of becoming an entrepreneur again, Bhat says: "All this stuff is just like me doing what I like to do. I mean, eventually I do want to be an entrepreneur [again]-I can't see myself working for anyone else." -Gisela M. Pedroza
David Marks, 18
When David Marks' next-door neighbor (and high school principal) decided to install a network at the local elementary school, he enlisted the help of the tech-savvy teen. When his dentist decided to upgrade his office computers, Marks offered to build the computers for less. So it was only natural for the 15-year-old to start Nitrus Systems, a custom computer, network and troubleshooting company that's expected to bring in $40,000 this year.
Launched in 1999, the business has given Marks a measure of liberty, both financially and socially: He says his parents don't impose a curfew on him, because chances are, if their son is out at 1 a.m., it's because he's off fixing someone's computer. "I'm not very social in the high school community-I don't associate much with high school kids outside of high school," says Marks, now 18.
The teen is often mistaken as 50-something partner Steve Finalyson's son, even though it's often Marks teaching Finalyson a tech trick or two. Next on Marks' horizon is a two-year hiatus from the business when he will go on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. After that, he'll attend Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he plans to offer his tech support services to fellow undergrads. -Gisela M. Pedroza
|Offering a Web site, magazine, entrepreneurial camps for teens and countless other resources, YoungBiz is an endless store of information for teen entrepreneurs.|
Devin Lazerine, 18
Rap-Up.com & Rap-Up
Devin Lazerine may have had no idea what the lyrics meant when he first listened to Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Membrane" single at age 10, but he was hooked on hip-hop music from then on. Combining his love of the music with his interest in Web design, Lazerine, then 15, launched Rap-Up.com, billing it as "hip-hop's new home."
The story doesn't end here. A few days after launching Rap-Up.com in 2000, Lazerine was contacted by a publisher interested in doing a magazine based on the site, an idea Lazerine had tossed around. The first issue of Rap-Up included interviews with artists like Nelly, Ludacris and 112. Editor in chief Lazerine penned the Destiny's Child feature, while writers from Rolling Stone, The Source, Vibe and others contributed to the rest. Now Rap-Up has a circulation of 200,000 in the United States and Canada.
It seems like only a matter of time before the Calabasas, California, teen will follow in the footsteps of P. Diddy or Russell Simmons, men whom Lazerine admires for their successful forays into several businesses with hip-hop music. "My ultimate goal," reveals Lazerine, "is to become a music mogul/entrepreneur, which includes becoming a producer, owning my own recording label, clothing line and magazines." As he's currently in talks to create a TV show as well as a movie based on his experiences, it appears someone is listening. -April Y. Pennington
Ashley Powers, 17
While most of us didn't learn about the Internet till well after we'd gotten our driver's license, this teen practically grew up in cyberspace. When Ashley Powers was 13 and cruising teen sites, she couldn't relate to the people who created them. Unsatisfied, she bought HTML for Dummies and hit the books. What emerged in 1999 was Goosehead.com, a Studio City, California, teen entertainment network.
Being a teen herself, Powers knew exactly what was important: message boards, chat rooms, games and good quality content, all the things that would build a community. It worked. The popularity of her site opened other doors, like a book she wrote last year and an episodic show (viewable on her Web site) she helped write and direct.
|Youth Venture's "Quick-Start Guide" is a big help in walking you through the process of starting your business.|
A pretty blonde Southern California girl, Powers has dealt with her share of scrutiny. "The fact that I'm a girl, my age, the way I look, they'll pick apart anything," shares Powers, who will head off to college in fall 2003. "I've had business meetings where the guys in suits wouldn't even talk to or look at me." Unfazed, she muses: "It was a lesson in life as it was in business. You have to know in your heart what you do and not listen to what anyone else says." -April Y. Pennington
Michael Podraza, 16
CollectibleX.com Inc. &
Whimsical Beans Inc.
Michael Podraza just got his driver's license. He won't get a car until the summer, but this little rite of passage means he won't have to ask his mother for anymore rides to the Streamwood, Illinois, office that houses his two companies, CollectibleX.com and Whimsical Beans Inc.
When Podraza was 11, he and his father created CollectibleX.com, a Web site where people can indulge in collectibles like Beanie Babies and Precious Moments. "I wanted to make it easier to buy, sell and trade collectibles without having to go to conventions and shows and phone ordering and things like that," he explains.
Five years in, CollectibleX.com pretty much runs itself. The site employs about 15 people who handle transactions and customer service, and it's rung up about $6 million in sales since its founding.
Looking for a new challenge, Podraza took an interest in customized stuffed bears in 1999 with the launch of Whimsical Beans. Each bear is designed by Podraza and benefits a charity, such as the Batten Disease Support and Research Association of the American Cancer Society. Podraza runs Whimsical Beans on his own, not only designing the bears, but also dealing with manufacturing, shipping and sales. "I'm being a child and an adult at the same time," he says. "It's fun because most kids my age do other stuff like sports and I'm running a business. It's just weird." -Devlin Smith
Elise & Evan Macmillan, 14 & 16
The Chocolate Farm
Elise Macmillan's grandmother taught her how to make chocolate when she was about 3 years old. Since then, she's been experimenting with quite a few recipes of her own.
At age 10, Elise introduced her confections to an eager crowd at a local marketplace where she and other kids were permitted to sell their wares. "We thought it was going to be a one-day thing," says Elise, "but it turned into a real business, and people loved [the chocolate] and kept buying it." From that marketplace, Denver-based The Chocolate Farm was born in 1999. Evan, who had taken an interest in computers and business, set up the company's Web site, and Elise began developing more chocolate recipes.
Today, all the company's products have a farm theme, like Chocolate Cows and Pigs in Mud. The company also sells cookbooks and chocolate kits so customers can make their own chocolates at home. "We're really trying to share the fun that we've had with making chocolates," Evan says.
Through exposure on TV and in magazines, demand for The Chocolate Farm's products has grown. The company, originally based in the Macmillans' kitchen and operated solely by Elise and Evan, is now housed in an industrial kitchen and has a full staff. Now that they have employees handling the making, packaging and shipping of their products, the siblings have more time to concentrate on things like school and sports, but the business is always a focus. Says Elise, "I'm kept busy with the company's future plans and new product ideas and everything else that there is to a company."
Though they aren't sure how long they'll be running The Chocolate Farm (both plan to go to college), Elise and Evan are content with all they've accomplished, especially when it comes to making other people happy. "Our whole business is about the customers, and it's really great to see what they think and their responses, how excited they are, how much they've learned or been inspired by our business," says Elise. "That's probably the best part." -Devlin Smith
Win, Win, Win
While work for most high school students generally takes on the form of a part-time job, teenagers do more than merely make up a highly attractive demographic for businesses-they create businesses, too. Thanks to a partnership between California high schools; California State University, Chico; and businesses in Northern California, the student-led Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization at Chico State is able to organize and host high schools for their International Trade Fair. Revolving around the ideals of entrepreneurship, business and economics, the competition is based on the judged presentations of projects and can be a combination of three types: entrepreneurship, virtual enterprise and/or community outreach. Each high school SIFE team is given a mentor from Chico State SIFE, which helps them create and develop project ideas.
Oakland's Fremont High School Business Academy's Cal-High SIFE team wowed a panel of judges this March and took first place in the competition. Their entrepreneurship project, dubbed BOMBAST (Business Operations Management Business Academy Student Team), provides more than 100 students and staff daily with a lunch program that offers additional food service at lunchtime and has reduced after-lunch truancy. Their community service project is a tutoring program, and they also have a business card service called CardEx, found at www.fhs.homestead.com.
Being that it's the Fremont SIFE team's first year in existence, their win was truly a sweet victory against the 22 other high schools. "The reason we won was, everyone had a job to prepare for this. It was a true team effort," shares Amy Carpenter, director of the Business Academy for Fremont High School.
Awarded $600 and an opportunity to send four team members to Seattle to watch the CSU Chico SIFE team at the SIFE Regional Competition, the teens found the entire experience inspiring. "When they announced we won, it was mayhem-the students jumped up and down; they were screaming," Carpenter recounts. "Oakland gets such a bad rap for low test scores and truancy. This really meant a lot in changing [how we are perceived]." -April Y. Pennington