GREENVILLE, S.C. -- On the broad beach at the Isle of Palms, most of the teens from Mauldin's Messiah Lutheran Church were spreading towels, throwing Frisbees and eyeing bikinis.
Drew Nichols was talking to a customer in Istanbul.
Wearing a digital phone clipped to his swim trunks, never far from his laptop back at the dorm-style retreat center, 16-year-old Drew was accepting new Internet accounts for his Valuetech Communications.
"The thing about being a small business owner," confides the 6-foot-3, deep-voiced teen, "is you're on call 24 hours a day, no matter where you are."
The Mauldin High junior isn't exaggerating. The business of creating and maintaining Web sites that he launched at 14 has snagged 200 customers around the world -- 200 customers who have no idea they're dealing with a teen-ager.
"The good thing about the Internet is you can be what you want to be," Drew said. "Your age, your color, your size, the way you look doesn't matter at all. If you can have a professional attitude, you can be professional on the Internet."
Drew started small, with a single computer and a general store owner in the United Arab Emirates who wanted to sell his merchandise on line. He now operates with six computers -- four of them in Chicago -- a laptop, two phone lines and a fleet of mobile phones, pagers and beepers.
"Basically, I maintain the servers, and I help people put up their Web sites, help them set up their electronic commerce, their on-line catalogs, their data bases, things like that. It's kind of a weird thing that you can make money at it," he said.
Weird, maybe. Profitable, definitely.
He won't say exactly how much he earns, but he estimates it's what a fresh-from-college graduate might make.
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