Nick D'Aloisio
Nick D'Aloisio © Camerapress

In the week that 17-year-old Londoner Nick D’Aloisio sold his news app, Summly, to Yahoo for an estimated £18m, Jess Cotton recalls a few other early starters.


1. Cornelius Vanderbilt

The first great corporate tycoon in American history, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt started a ferry service between Staten Island and the rising commercial centre of Manhattan at the age of 16, winning trade by charging lower fares than the competition. He later expanded by launching a transatlantic steam line before switching his attentions to the country’s developing railroads.

2. Ingvar Kamprad

The furnishing giant IKEA’s “making do” philosophy began in a small village in Sweden’s southern peninsula, around the kitchen table of 17-year-old founder Ingvar Kamprad. His earliest venture was buying matches in bulk in Stockholm and reselling them locally. He went on to sell fish, Christmas decorations and seeds before eventually settling on furniture.

3. Warren Buffett

America’s most prominent investor bought his first shares at the age of 11. He also devised a system for predicting winning race horses and by 13 was earning enough money to warrant filing his first tax return. After his father discouraged gambling, Buffett took to leasing pinball machines to barber’s shops, a business which he sold after a year for $1,200.

4. Shawn Fanning

One of the co-founders of Napster, the music-sharing programme that caused seismic shifts in the music industry, Fanning was 14 when he met fellow aspiring entrepreneur Sean Parker. While the slightly older Parker raised funds, Fanning worked on the software coding, sleeping in a utility cupboard during lengthy programming sessions in his uncle’s Massachusetts office. Within weeks of its release in 2000, Napster had 20m users, and was embroiled in multiple lawsuits. The music business was never the same again.

5. Aaron Swartz

Swartz wrote his first computer programme aged 12. He co-authored the RSS web feed at 14, and later co-founded the social news site Reddit. In his twenties Swartz increasingly devoted his energies to advocating internet freedom and, after bulk-downloading files from a digital library for academic journals, faced charges of hacking. In January 2013 he was found dead in his apartment, age 26.

6. Kavita Shukla

Kavita Shukla from Maryland patented Smart Lid, a lab safety device for bottles containing hazardous material, aged 13. On a trip to see her grandmother in India she observed that seeds from the herb fenugreek could prevent illness after drinking dirty water. By 16 she had worked out that it could be used to preserves fruit and vegetable and obtained a second patent for her fenugreek-treated packaging Fresh Paper.

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