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Passion for technology pays off

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Pankaj Arora, 18, has a passion for technology. He started writing software when he was 12, moved on to building computers and now runs his own company, paWare, which, in his words, "provides complete IT solutions for business."

"I was born a geek," he confesses.

And a successful geek he is. Pankaj commands up to $300 an hour as a consultant, and paWare could easily become a full-time job. He ranks No. 9 on the YoungBiz 100, an annual listing of the top 100 young entrepreneurs, as determined by YoungBiz magazine www.youngbiz.com.

But Pankaj juggled his business around his school schedule. When he graduated from high school in June he had already accumulated two years of college credit from Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College.

Pankaj was one of the impressive young entrepreneurs I interviewed as part of a special report I did for Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Some of the most lucrative teen enterprises are in computer and technology-related fields. YoungBiz estimates that in 2000 its top 10 entrepreneurs made $5.5 million in annual profits. Of those, eight were directly engaged in Internet or computer-based ventures.

Still, business sophisticates such as Pankaj remain kids at heart. While he runs a solo operation, he couldn't have done it without his parents, who let their son's enterprise take over their home.

"We have PCs lying in every room and cable coming out of the basement," says his father, Jag.

He and Pankaj's mother, Anita, spent hours cleaning up their son's room to make it presentable for a visit from a photographer. Anita organizes Pankaj's paperwork and frets that "food is not his priority. I fix a nice plate and leave it at his desk, and then he'll leave it to talk to a client."

At first, Jag worried that clients would get cold feet about working with a teenager and renege on paying up. That never happened. Now he offers his son fatherly advice about staying in school.

"I tell him it's like building a bigger engine. If you have more horsepower, you can go farther."

This fall Pankaj enters the University of Minnesota and will use earnings from his business and investments to help cover college costs. He has turned down full-time job offers, despite the lure of six-figure salaries.

"I'm having fun," he says. "It's not about acquiring wealth or taking over the world."

On second thought, he adds, "I would like to take over the world. But I want to finish school first."

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to jbodnar@kiplinger.com.