Still in school, and they're CEOs
Meet Abigael Anthony.Skip to next paragraph
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Like most teenagers, she's working this summer to earn a little extra cash. The only difference is she's working in a business she started.
"It just grew from nowhere," says Abigael, CEO of Animalbytes, a Web site that collects, organizes, and makes available free software from all over the Internet.
She actually started the site four years ago - when she was a high-school freshman. Today she earns up to $700 a month, all from advertising. Abigael is hardly alone.
The entrepreneurial wave that hit adults is trickling down to high schoolers and middle schoolers - and even some elementary school students are setting up shop and appointing themselves CEO.
Thanks to computers and the Internet, today's tech-savvy teens are discovering that starting a business is as easy as learning how to ride a bike.
Not surprisingly, the majority of businesses that teenagers are now starting are in the high-tech realm - although many still favor T-shirt, jewelry, cookie, and craft businesses.
And while the story of the kid who parks a computer in his parents' basement and makes as much money as Bill Gates is the exception, plenty of teen businesses do thrive - like Michael Dell of Dell Computers, who started his direct-sale company at 19 and now, in his early 30s, is the youngest billionaire on Forbes magazine's list of the richest people in America.
A generation with 'the tools'
"Kids today have the tools to be more entrepreneurial and they're taking advantage of that," says Kathleen Allen, who runs the undergraduate entrepreneurial program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Of the 100 students in her program this past year, she says, nearly a third have been doing something entrepreneurial since their teens.
Statistics on this group are hard to come by - in many respects teen entrepreneurs are an underground movement.
But studies show that today's 13- to 19-year-olds are big on being their own boss.
Consider: 70 percent of high-schoolers say they want to own their own businesses, according to a survey by Yankelovich Partners.
Several factors are driving the trend:
*Computers. They have made it easier for anybody to start a business - including teens. And teens today know computers as well as they know the brand names of the best skateboarding gear.
*Instant access to information. Thanks to the Internet, information on how to start and run a business - any business - is available to anyone anywhere who is able to get online.
*Entrepreneurship is considered a legitimate profession and teenagers today have plenty of role models. High schools, and even middle schools, now offer entrepreneurial classes.
No doubt the high-tech craze is the biggest factor pushing teens toward entrepreneurship.
"The Internet offers an extra edge to teens who want to start businesses," says Danielle Valle, author of a new book called "Whiz Teens in Business." "They can do it with very little money and operate their businesses on a flexible time schedule."
Abigael says her Animalbytes Web site, which contains animal-related software, started by accident four years ago.
"It just started because my [then] five-year-old cousin wanted kitty 'wallpaper' for her computer," says the Olney, Md., resident who just graduated from high school.
She searched the Internet and found loads of free software. So she decided to set up a Web page "just for fun."
Within a year, advertisers came calling.
The rest is Internet history.
She now earns up to $700 a month from advertisers - like Netscape and Sara Lee Direct - and gets as many as 1,000 unique visitors to her site each day.
Abigael plans to keep her Web site up and running when she heads to college this fall.
Another teen having a hard-working summer is Tom Whitnah. He, too, is running a business he started - and he estimates he'll earn about $6,000 in the next two months.
"Starting it wasn't too hard," says Tom, CEO of Vision Net Consulting, a Web design company he's been running from his bedroom in San Carlos, Calif., since he was a sophomore.
"I really didn't have to put much money into it," he says. "All that went into it was time."
Of course, social commentators point out that teen ventures in technology have inherent start-up costs - hardware, software - that clearly favor better-off youths with supportive parents.