Bill Gates was 19 when he came up with the idea for Microsoft. Michael Dell was the same age when he started selling computers out of his dorm room. Who are the teens of today that are trying to hatch the big tech and media ideas of tomorrow? We talked with venture capitalists, tech executives, college professors and entrepreneurs to find out.
In looking at the next generation of would-be Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses, one thing quickly becomes clear: how much the world has changed for tech innovators. First of all, new distribution platforms are popping up all the time. If previous generations of tech entrepreneurs were all about the computer, the current crop of can draw on everything from mobile phones to social networks to user-generated sites for business ideas.
At the same time, many of the other steepest barriers to entry have fallen: To get an idea off the ground, you no longer need to gain the approval of a paranoid software giant (thanks to the open-source movement), or get 3 million people to sign up for your offering, or land a big round of funding. More than ever, you really just need a good idea.
The point of this list isn’t to tell you that Mark Zuckerberg (24) is headed for greatness or that David Karp (24) and Matt Mullenweg (23) really seem to be onto something with, respectively, Tumblr and WordPress.
There’s no shortage of well-known 20-somethings running very successful businesses. Rather, we were interested in highlighting earlier-stage businesses and entrepreneurs. Below are 10 people –one only 15 years old and none yet of legal drinking age — who have created companies that in some cases are already bringing in millions of dollars in revenues. We included one green-tech entrepreneur in our list because that is such a hot area these days.
Writing on his blog BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis-whose son, Jake, is number six on our list-says the current crop of teen-age entrepreneurs is anything but a group of text-addled slackers: “They take the tools available and make things, whether that’s a blog or a video or a web page or an application. The more tools there are, the more things they’ll make,” he says. “This is the creation generation.”
We’ve ranked the entrepreneurs on this list on a variety of factors. Because they all run very small private companies, reliable financial data is often scarce. In some cases, though, the companies, their funders or other sources have supplied that information; where they haven’t, we have tried to estimate it based on a rough calculation. We have also considered other, non-financial factors — the size of the potential market for their ideas and the uniqueness of their concepts. Given the rapid pace at which technology changes, it won’t take long to find out whether any breakout stars will emerge from this group.