Jaylen Bledsoe employs 180 people across the country at the age of 17. (Photo credit: Curtis Bunn)

Jaylen Bledsoe, 17, was astonished when a teenager told him his life’s goal was to become a drug dealer. Bledsoe, who gained national attention for creating a thriving Internet design company, could not fathom the youth’s position. At least, not at first.

“That was his dream,”   Bledsoe told Urban News Service in a rare extended interview. “(But) knowing the (lack of) support he had and the community he (lived in), there was no one there to teach him beyond school. (It) was the community, the drug dealer. That’ s where he saw success. He saw drug-dealing as the (reason) they have the cars they have, the money they have, the women they have.”

In that moment, for Bledsoe, a larger vision came into focus. He had achieved astonishing success in building a website design business when he was just 14, inspiring business camps in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives, and Dallas, Texas for teenagers, and developing the Jaylen D. Bledsoe Global Group — a company that specializes in brand expansion consulting for celebrities like Steve Harvey, business development, venture capital funding and direct marketing strategies, among other disciplines.

But the talk with the young man inspired him, he said, to prioritize the Young Entrepreneur University, a program for teenagers where he would “teach students who have not been heavily exposed to entrepreneurship the concepts and fundamentals of building a business, based on the idea of innovating for people.”

Bledsoe has partnered with major companies, including K Swiss and AT&T, was featured on the Bishop T.D. Jakes Show and, through referrals, has a growing clientele of celebrities in need of brand development. This includes developing online strategies that expand companies’   reach and product identification.

That’s heady stuff for anyone — especially a teenager. But then, Bledsoe is hardly a typical 17-year-old. It would be too simplistic to call him a millionaire boy-genius. Yes, four years ago, he became an Internet sensation when his IT company reportedly was worth $3.5 million.

But the true measure of this wunderkind is in his mission — and it has nothing to do with taking over the world, but certainly is about changing the business world.

“It’s more like crafting young people in our society to be entrepreneurs,”   Bledsoe said. “Entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now for young college students trying to find their way, but that’s the youngest age in which efforts extend to. If I can use my story to motivate, inspire and push a young person who may be lost in life, then that’s my purpose.”

“To work for him now is pretty remarkable,”   said Wilmer Jackson-Spencer, Bledsoe’s business manager, who grew up in the same neighborhood. “He has such a high aptitude. He’s very clear in what he wants done and how he wants it done. He doesn’t watch football or play sports. He’s all about the Jaylen Bledsoe Global Group. His focus and diligence force me to put that into my work — and I’m 37. It’s amazing to have the kind of engagement he has.”

Bledsoe already employs 180 people across the nation. His company used its search engine optimization experience to help comedian and entertainment star Steve Harvey earn $8 million in presales of his book, “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man,” according to Jackson. Remarkably, Bledsoe insists he is not driven by “chasing money”   or material possessions — he drives a used Nissan Altima — a mindset that he realizes makes him unlike the average teenager.

Bledsoe said he is ready to take on college, but he has to endure his last year of high school at Hazelwood West Senior High first. He has been accepted at Stanford University and plans to study international business and psychology.

Meanwhile, though, high school is not much of a challenge for Bledsoe, even while taking advanced courses. “ If compared to average 17-year-olds in my community, my focus is different,”   he said. “For them, it may be, ‘How do I get my next paycheck or buy some jewelry?’  For me, it’s, ‘How can I innovate for people? How can I build my brand so I can help people and save someone’s life?’