At a time most high school seniors are fretting over what to wear to the prom or what college they will attend, Cottonwood High School senior Daniel Nell is pressured by the demands of running two businesses.
He also works part time at a computer software company.At 18, Nell is owner of a full-service locksmith business called Certified Security. He also holds part of a $60,000 contract with AAA Emergency Road Service to provide service to stranded motorists including tire changes, battery jumps and gasoline delivery.
Unlike other teenagers who fill their spare time watching MTV or cruising, Nell is hostage to the pager clipped to his belt. Whether it's a call from a motorist who has a flat tire or a customer who needs a lock rekeyed, when the pager beeps he must go.
When he's not working, Nell helps his wife, Michelle, care for their 3-month-old son Derrick, who underwent emergency surgery and later nearly died of sudden infant death syndrome.
"We've become doctors, learning everything from changing his dressings, giving him antibiotics and IVs," Nell said. "We even thought about going to medical school."
Between work and family life, Nell rarely has time to relax.
"Before we started Certified Security, we had a lot of spare time. Six months ago, we had seen every movie that came out. Now we haven't seen a movie in four or five months. We don't ever get to do anything, which is kind of hard," he said.
Add to his busy schedule the Governor's Young Entrepreneur Search. The contest requires students to submit a written application and undergo a series of interviews.
This is the second year Nell has been named a finalist in the statewide contest. He entered last year's search intent on winning and certain he would dislike the other contestants. But he discovered the other entrepreneurfinalists were just like him, young people with a lot of business smarts and drive.
He particularly enjoyed talking shop with Sam Francis, owner of Sam's Candy in Centerville. "You talk to Sam and you'd think he's 35 years old," Nell said.
Of course, the same could be said about Nell, who has worked as a locksmith since he was 16. "I learned by watching my dad and just kind of going around. I taught myself a lot of the other aspects."
He has completed his high school requirements and plans to graduate with his class later this spring. His immediate plans are uncertain, however. "I want to get a master's degree in finance, but I don't have the time right now."
Although Certified Security pays the bills (the business grosses about $120,000 annually), Nell said locksmithing will not be his life's career.
"It's not something I want to do for the rest of my life. It's not that I don't like it. It's just not something I want to do forever," he said.
Ralph Hawkins, Distributive Education Clubs of America sponsor at Cottonwood High School, describes Nell as a "young man with a desire and drive to do what he wants to do. He's got this drive pushing him to do things.
"Unfortunately he's got a bad situation right now, but entrepreneurs like him pick themselves up and move on."
Circumstances have robbed him of his youth. On occasion, Nell is overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he said.
"You can't go on vacation because there's no one to work for you if you're not here. Michelle does some of the accounting, but if I'm not here to do the work, nothing goes through," he said shrugging his shoulders.
"I have a lot of regrets, but I have a whole lot to show for what I've done."