Teens in Tech: They’re Here, They’re Young, Get Used To It

I spent part of my day last Saturday doing something that most adults try to avoid. I hung out with some teens.

Specifically, I attended the second annual Teens in Technology conference at Google’s San Francisco offices. Co-chairs Sam Levin, 48, and Daniel Brusilovsky, 17, say that more than 150 people, aged 10 to 60, attended the conference, which is as much about tech-oriented teens being inspired by a long list of speakers as it is a way for tech companies to tap into the significant teen demographic.

The conference was sponsored by Intel Corp., Best Buy and Charles River Ventures (CRV), among others. In addition, Pana.ma, Nimbuzz and Booyah manned booths. And it’s no surprise what they were all doing there.

Tobias Kemper, who heads the U.S. operations for Nimbuzz, a provider of mobile social messaging services, says what drew him and his company to the event was “the access to our user base and showing them that we care.”

After the event, I caught up with Saar Gur, 33, a partner at CRV, to ask him why teens are so interesting to him and his firm. He said that new technologies, especially those that are Internet-specific, enable new communication platforms, which are often adopted first by the younger generation.

“Teens don’t do email, which the rest of us don’t understand,” Gur said. “VCs are not in their teens, so it’s easy for us to make the wrong assumption about new communications.”

Gur said that his firm has not necessarily invested in any teen-run company, but “we support all these teens, and doing that may shape our involvement in a future investment.”

He added: “Down the road, who knows? We could one day back one of these teens.”

Of note, is that among those who paid to attend was Apple co-founder and Silicon Valley legend Steve Wozniak, who came with his wife Janet and sat quietly and listened to the speakers. Woz had little room to breathe during the break as he was swarmed by the youngsters, who knew who he was and wanted to say, “Hi.”

I overheard Woz telling Joey Primiani, 21, a former Google intern, that he liked his presentation, which he gave wearing a space suit. Primiani, co-founder of Palo Alto, Calif.-based stealth startup Palaran—which has raised $1.8 million from True Ventures and individual investors, including Esther Dyson, Del.ici.ous founder Joshua Schacter and former Yahoo vet Vish Makhijani—talked about how the teens should pursue their dreams.

All in all, the conference was a family affair. I brought my two sons, 7 and 12. Michael Nelson, communications director at Google, brought his wife and daughters; John Schneider, CTO and co-founder of Pana.ma brought his daughter.

Plus, Brusilovsky, who came up with the idea for the conference when he was 15, brought his mom and dad. The parents helped serve milk and cookies during the intermission.

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