Columbia teen combines style and technology for booming business

Thursday, September 13, 2012 | 10:09 a.m. CDT; updated 8:50 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 14, 2012
Taylor Burghard, 14, is the founder of TekChick Designs, a company that reuses old computer parts to make creative jewelry.

COLUMBIA — Taylor Burghard just turned 14 — but she's had her own business since she was 12.

She owns TekChick Designs, a company that turns old computer parts into abstract and colorful jewelry. TekChick's products are sold in more than 40 locations throughout the country.

Taylor finds her materials by collecting hard drive actuators and heat sinks from old computer towers. To make earrings, say, she uses letters from the keyboards of old computers to spell words or phrases, such as "I-ctrl-U," or "G-R-8-M-O-M" or "M-I-Z-Z-O-U."

With a flathead screwdriver, she pries the keys out of the keyboards, washes and sorts them, then glues them together by the edges. After the glue dries, she drills silver hooks to make the earrings before packaging them.

They cost $12.95 for a set, and she said she sells as many as 100 pairs each month.

"I've always loved jewelry," Taylor said, laughing. "Everyone can testify to that."

She started with the "option" and "command" keys to create sayings that wouldn’t be too long or complex, such as "M-Y-option."

Then she moved on to small words and short phrases. Earrings with the phrase "I-ctrl-U" is her top seller, followed by "M-Y-option" and "L-O-V-E."

Brooches make up a small percentage of Taylor's products; she puts them together from computer parts in a variety of shapes and colors.

Because TekChick Designs products are sold in mainly computer stores, sales reflect the technology industry, said her father, Duane Burghard.

Taylor comes from four generations of small business owners. One great-grandfather founded a corporate insurance company in Chicago. Another opened a wholesale dairy foods distribution company that sold butter, eggs and cheese to grocery stores and restaurants. Both companies were handed down to their children.

Taylor brainstormed her own company in spring 2011 after her father's MacXprts store staged an art contest with computer parts for a recycling drive they had organized.

When she started TekChick Designs, she said she wanted to save money for college, learn about business and have fun. Her father said she also wanted to send the message to young girls that one could have both style and intelligence.

“It’s making it clear to young women that smart is cool,” Duane Burghard said.

Taylor took a nanotech class over the summer at Duke University Talented Identification Program in North Carolina. To enroll she was required to take the ACT, and at age 12, her score was better than half of all college-bound seniors.

She is also environmentally aware. After she removes the keys, for example, the keyboard scraps are recycled at Mid-Missouri Recycling.

“I’ve been big in recycling and reusing,” she said.

Last January, Taylor and her father attended the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of the largest exhibitions in the world with over 150,000 people attending. She set up a booth for TekChick Designs and greeted people as they strolled by.

“I was very impressed in watching her do that,” her father said.

He said Taylor’s first encounter with the public was helping him make a sale when she was just 2 years old.

“She’s evolving very fast in terms of grasping what to do for her business,” he said.

She recently signed a contract with Dr. Bott, an Oregon-based company that sells Mac products to resellers. She said she is aiming for international distribution and experimenting with what’s practical to make — key chains, rings and necklaces.

Hopeful of the future, Taylor said she is just going to continue promoting and expanding her business.

“I’ve been raised in this,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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Mike Martin September 13, 2012 | 3:39 p.m.

Very cool. The youngest example I've read to date of homegrown Columbia entrepreneurship, which -- as this story illustrates -- comes from within, not from without.

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