Philly teen tech entrepreneurs take matters into their own hands, or phones

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Nasir Holloman (left), Kyree Keels (center) and Kadir Douglass (right) opened a phone repair business at their school. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Nasir Holloman (left), Kyree Keels (center) and Kadir Douglass (right) opened a phone repair business at their school. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

As students at Dobbins Technical High School, Kyree Keels, Nasir Holloman and Kadir Douglass could study culinary arts, barbering, building and property management, and a host of other subjects.

Instead, they’re so excited about studying computer systems networking that Keels, Holloman, and Douglass quickly started to be the “go-to” people on campus for tech repairs.

“Technical things are just things that there’s one solution to one problem, and they’re most likely easier than you probably would think,” Keels said.

As word of their skills spread, Keels, Holloman and Douglass soon became part of the school’s unofficial IT department.

“So we’re working with networking wires. Somebody’s board’s not working, we’ve got to fix that. You know, just regular tech service things around the school, computers, iMacs, laptops, everything,” Keels said.

The work came with perks.

“When we fix teachers’ stuff around the school, some teachers will pay us … I remember [one] tech job was resetting the teacher’s password to the computer. She gave me $5,” Holloman added.

That success and payment led them to take on their own project: repairing broken smartphones, mainly replacing screens. They started calling themselves Teens Do Tech.

Their teacher, Jim Breslin, said he was learning the material with the students because he spent a lot of his classroom time teaching math.

“First, I had to teach myself how to fix phones. Because I didn’t know how to fix phones. And so we got some kits and we’d just start playing with it, and the kids just took to it, really well,” Breslin said.

And that’s when Teens Do Tech took off.

In April, the trio won a competition sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. Winning the competition came with $1,000 and a summer internship learning how to start a business at Penn.

“We want to go out to different schools and help kids out with broken phones. Because nobody wants to go home with a broken phone. That’s like the worst thing ever, coming to school with a broken phone,” Keels said. “It’s only going to be probably amount of your screen, which is $10, $20, $30 maybe.”

To the teens, having a broken phone can affect someone’s social life.

“We actually read an article earlier that said 15% of people is like, if you see them with a broken phone, they’re most likely won’t date you,” Keels said.

Whether that’s true, their teacher is proud that the Teens Do Tech students are using their tech shop skills outside the classroom.

“Having control over something in their environment, which is to me what technology is all about. To be able to manipulate the things around us and use them for our own purposes. So I think they felt pretty good about that,” Breslin said.

Teaching tech as a vocation is new. But businesses like Teens Do Tech illustrate what teaching technology to young students can do and the new opportunity for young entrepreneurship it can offer.

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