By LARRY KANTER

Senior Reporter

If L.A.'s twentysomethings seem like a promising lot, consider what happens when they turn 30.

That's the age, or thereabouts, when many enterprising young people have garnered enough experience, contacts and business know-how to make their ambitions come alive.

"So much attention is paid to the ones who start young, but the majority of young entrepreneurs don't get started right away they wait to amass some money, some street smarts," said Kathleen Allen, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at USC, who has taught hundreds of ambitious youngsters over the past eight years. "Then they're ready to go ahead and start ventures of their own."

In fact, said Allen, more than two-thirds of her students opt to work for someone else after graduating. That way, they can examine an industry or two from the inside out, before deciding where to carve their own niche.

That's what Randall Kaplan did. At the age of 30, he already has a resume that would elicit envy among those many years his senior.

A graduate of Northwestern Law School, Kaplan worked for the heavy-hitting corporate firms Riordan & McKinzie and McDermott, Will & Emery before souring on the law. He landed a job as personal assistant to Eli Broad, the billionaire chairman of financial services giant SunAmerica Inc., and from there wound up, at age 27, as the youngest managing director in the firm's history, with responsibility for mergers and acquisitions and strategic planning.

Now, Kaplan heads the L.A. office of Akamai Technologies Inc., a 6-month-old Cambridge, Mass.-based start-up that develops technology to make Web sites work more efficiently.

Thanks to his legal background, Kaplan has been able to draft contracts and negotiate licensing agreements. His experience with SunAmerica has opened the doors of venture capitalists and angel investors who otherwise would have remained shut.

"I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but felt I needed the corporate experience to get the knowledge base and contacts," Kaplan said. "You develop the instincts that are critical to making the right decisions."

Laurie McCartney, the 31-year-old president and chief executive of eStyle Inc., an online retailer targeted at women, has taken a similar approach. Before launching her venture in November, McCartney attended Harvard Business School, served as vice president of strategic planning at Simon & Schuster and was a member of Morgan Stanley's mergers-and-acquisitions department. Most recently, she worked in the strategic planning department at Walt Disney Co.

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