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Meet tomorrow's moguls today. For this year's roundup of 25-and-unders, we had a record crop of nominations. Here are a few finalists
Richard Ludlow, 22, turned down a job offer from McKinsey and deferred admission to Harvard Business School to start New York's Academic Earth, an online hub for videos of university lectures and other educational content. Backed by angel funding, he aims both to earn a profit and to improve society—by making academic material widely available online so as to lower the cost of education around the world.
In between homework and basketball practice, high school senior Jasmine Lawrence, 17, landed deals with Wal-Mart (WMT) and Whole Foods (WFMI) to carry her line of natural cosmetics. Lawrence started Eden Body Works in Williamstown, N.J., to offer alternatives to chemical products after a bad experience with a hair relaxer.
Marcellus Alexander III, 23; Brandon Davenport, 24; and Elwood Green III, 25, created text messaging provider Vesta Mobile Solutions after sensing the TV and radio stations two of the team had worked for could use texting to make programming more interactive. Today, the Baltimore company is profitable and has clients that include Hearst Argyle Television (HTV), Comcast (CMCSA), and clothing retail chain Downtown Locker Room.
Running Their Own Show
These are just a few of the finalists in our fourth annual roundup to discover America's most promising young entrepreneurs. As in previous years, we asked BusinessWeek readers to nominate candidates aged 25 and under who are running their own companies that show potential for growth and establish the talent of the founders behind them. Given the current credit crunch and the ailing economy, we were pleased to receive a record number of nominations this year.
After the call for nominations ended in late July, our staff sifted through the nominees to ensure founders and co-founders met the age criteria. Then we asked Richard Branson, BusinessWeek contributor and Duke University executive-in-residence Vivek Wadhwa, and the Kauffman Foundation's Bo Fishback to help us pick the most impressive from among this batch. You can flip through a slide show of the results, then vote for the business you feel holds the most promise. We'll post the five top vote-getters at the end of September.
Like last year's crop, a few of this year's finalists had landed investments from angels or venture capitalists, some were already profitable, and most of the companies were based around the Internet.
Helping the Teacher
"In many cases, young entrepreneurs aren't starting a company right away—they're starting a Web site and seeing if it works," says Fishback, 30. "We've been seeing kids creating businesses for a long time, but most were service businesses that were difficult to scale. The Internet is the great equalizer." That was the case for Artia Moghbel, 21, who built a Web site during his senior year of high school for his English teacher, who wanted to distribute a 70-page reading assignment without having to make photocopies. At the time, Moghbel didn't realize he was laying the groundwork for SchoolRack, an online service intended to make it easy for teachers and students to communicate outside the classroom. He expects the business, which broke even in February, to bring in $1.2 million in revenues in the 2008-09 academic year.
Of course, there were a few more traditional companies in this year's crop, making their mark in the real estate and apparel industries, among others. In 2004, during the housing bubble, Daniel Negari, 22, invested in an Arizona property that soon appreciated $150,000. He refinanced to get a $100,000 line of credit, which he used in 2006 to start Beverly Hills Mint, a high-end real estate finance business brokering commercial and residential loans worth $5 million or more. The company now has 14 commission-only brokers and two employees, including Negari's mother, Berta, 47, whom he brought on board late last year. Negari says Beverly Hills Mint took in $650,000 in 2007. Despite the credit crunch, he finds that business is booming at the top of the market.
Johnny Earle, now 26, turned his skill creating iconic T-shirts into a rapidly expanding company, with locations in Los Angeles and Boston and overseas distribution. Last year's sales hit $2.29 million, and Earle—who says the business became profitable in 2006—expects revenue to jump to $3.75 million this year. Like Negari, Earle hired his mother. You can read our accompanying story that looks at a handful of businesses in which young founders are hiring their own parents.
The biggest difference between this year's nominees and last year's? More entrepreneurs voiced a desire both to make a profit and to make the world a better place. You can check another accompanying story detailing some of the reasons for the trend, and hear about the funding challenges that come with managing dual business models.
Another difference this year, frustratingly, was a smaller batch of women finalists, though Lawrence's success landing her deals at the two giant retailers was encouraging, as was 23-year-old Andrea Marron's custom dressmaking e-tail business, Studio 28 Couture, and Truly Unique Vision co-founder Ebele Mora's online TV network aimed at college kids. Elaine Allen, a Babson College professor and co-director of the group that compiles the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, says the discrepancy in startup rates is common to high-income countries like the U.S.
To see all 25 finalists in this year's roundup, flip through our 2008 slide show. Be sure to vote for the business you feel holds the most promise. Then check out our 2007 slide show on where last year's finalists are now.
(Bear in mind all revenues are self-reported.)
Business Exchange related topics:EntrepreneurshipStarting a BusinessSmall Business OperationsBootstrapping a StartupSocial Entrepreneurship