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Teenager today, tech exec tomorrow

Silicon Valley conference shows how Web entrepreneurs are getting younger and younger--some are not of driving age.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
PALO ALTO, Calif.--A handful of enterprising teens have a message for parents and the media: the Net is not all MySpace or Facebook horror stories.

In the crowd here at the "Next Generation Tech: Tech Plugged" conference, some teens are talking up their Web start-ups and technology inventions, a sign that--like the average cell phone user--the profile of a tech entrepreneur is getting younger and younger.

Ben Casnocha, for example, kicked off SD Forum's half-day event at Hewlett-Packard by talking about how he started an e-government software company at age 14. A San Francisco Bay Area resident, he got the idea from a sixth-grade class assignment in which he helped to clean up the dirty seats at the 49ers football stadium. With virtually no way to complain about the condition of the seats, he set out to create a complaint-and-resolution Web site. What ultimately resulted from the project was Comcate, a Web-based software company for public agencies to handle customer service.

Now 19, Casnocha sits on Comcate's board, promotes his advice book, My Start-Up Life, and travels around the country talking to college kids. Casnocha believes technology has created a golden age of entrepreneurship among his generation.

"There are more (of me) than ever before," said Casnocha.

Anshul Samur, a 13-year-old on a follow-up panel of high school students, is a case in point. He is the brainchild behind Elementeo, an interactive trading card game that teaches kids chemistry. He won a $500 award from the California Association of the Gifted for his idea, and has started selling the playing-card deck online.

Daniel Fukuba, a junior at Palo Alto High School who was also on the panel, recently started Composite Labs, which makes and sells robot kits. When he was 15, he thought up a system using RFID chips on pharmaceuticals in a "smart medicine cabinet" that could detect hazardous combinations of chemicals in the average person's bathroom. His idea was patented with money from Cisco, which now holds the intellectual property rights, according to Fakuba.

"My dad does a lot of work in intellectual property and I was doing some research on RFID for him," he said.

Some panelists strayed from the young entrepreneur mold and were more typical teen tech enthusiasts. All of the high-schoolers said they carry a cell phone and iPod at all times, and sometimes for reasons that might worry parents.

"I've used my iPod to store notes for tests. I've also sent text messages for answers to tests," said Ben Einbender, a New Mexico high school senior who apologized to his dad sitting in the audience.

Not skipping a beat, his dad asked back: "Why aren't your grades better?"