`A very exciting time for entrepreneurs'

3 young business owners put big dreams to work at Internet companies

Howard Business

April 24, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

During final exams in college, Deepak Jain rushed through a test so he could tend to business from the pay phone in the hall. At graduation, he crouched behind a chair to talk to a client from his cell phone.

Now, he can sit comfortably behind a long, wooden table in a conference room that overlooks Interstate 95. His Internet technology company, AiNET, has grown to fill 22 offices around the world, including two in Howard County. And Jain is projecting his Maryland offices will generate more than $10 million in revenue this year.

He is 25.

"This is without doubt a very exciting time for entrepreneurs," said Brien Biondi, executive director of the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization, a Virginia-based organization for entrepreneurs younger than 40 whose companies have an annual revenue of at least $1 million.

Being an entrepreneur is becoming the norm these days, said Biondi, who predicts there will be more entrepreneurs in the next five years than in the last two decades combined.

"It's unprecedented, what we're seeing in the world right now," he said.

That's because of the increasing availability of monetary resources and research tools, Biondi said, adding that about 1,400 colleges and universities offer courses, programs and internships in entrepreneurship.

The University of Maryland, for example, offers an undergraduate program and an MBA in entrepreneurship.

"There's this kind of mind set right now that being an entrepreneur you have better control of your own destiny," Biondi said.

Jain, of AiNET, who will receive an award next month as the U.S. Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of Maryland for 2000, is an example of that.

He started AiNET when he was 17, using five computers and his own money. Eight years later, the company is now worth so much that, "if somebody offered $50 million to buy this company, we'd laugh at them," said Jain.

AiNET provides Web hosting services for clients, including IBM, General Electric and Broadcast.com, ensuring their Web sites stay up and running, even through natural disasters.

The company's other services include consulting, e-commerce, security and assisting companies with their Intranets. A few years ago, AiNET developed the first system that made online credit card sales possible and secure, Jain said.

"Right now, if you turn on a computer anywhere in the U.S. -- or anywhere in the world, actually -- there is a one in five chance that you will visit an AiNET network," Jain said. There's a one in eight chance that if you make an online purchase, it'll go through an AiNET network, he added.

Jain's experience in the computer business stretches back to when he was a student at Glenelg High School and worked in a mentor program at the National Security Agency, analyzing information systems security. In college, he worked as Bell Atlantic's senior Internet technology consultant while studying biology at Johns Hopkins University.

Jain began operating AiNET in the basement of his parents' home when he was a senior in high school. During his freshman year of college, Jain opened AiNET's first office in Columbia. The second office, also in Columbia, opened a year later.

Now, the company has hundreds of employees and offices all over the globe, including offices in London, Tokyo, Moscow, New York and San Francisco.

"We were profitable week two of this company," Jain said, "and I've never looked back."

John Gorman, president and CEO of Oleran Network Solutions, Inc., also watched at a young age as his company grew into a multimillion-dollar business.

Based in Columbia, Oleran is a company that does Web integration and development. Gorman, 32, started the company in 1997 with two board members and himself as the only employee.

The company has 12 employees, and revenue for 1999 was $4.5 million, Gorman said.

"I knew that the business was going to be there," he said, "we just had to have the right product placement and the right positioning."

Amita Shukla, 24, recently left Wall Street to become the CEO of her Howard County company, PickAnything.com.

"I always felt that finding information on the Internet is a very time consuming and frustrating process," said Shukla, who began an Internet search service that allows users to look through categories and search for products from cars to cooking utensils.

PickAnything.com was launched in February. Based in Columbia, the company has fewer than 10 employees. Revenue is generated through affiliate partnerships with more than 230 online merchants, Shukla said.

Though the company is young, Shukla has big dreams of PickAnything.com becoming a leading information provider on the Internet.

"I think when you go to start a company, it has to be with a dream and a vision," Shukla said, "and it has to be a grand dream."

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