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Gore, Geldof, Venter...And This Guy?

At this year's gathering of tech and design luminaries, Ben Kaufman aims to create a big productin 72 hoursfor free
Investors have poured $3 millon into Kaufman¹s Web startup, Kluster
Investors have poured $3 millon into Kaufman¹s Web startup, Kluster Jason Grow

Al Gore will be there. Sir Bob Geldof is on the bill. So is Craig Venter, the genomic pioneer. As scores of global glitterati gather in Monterey, Calif., on Feb. 27 at the technology, entertainment, and design conference known as TED, they'll be joined by a 21-year-old who wears low-slung pants and an oversize coat. That would be Ben Kaufman, CEO of a Burlington (Vt.) software startup called Kluster. Kaufman has landed an entire room at TED—precious real estate—to demo his new social network. It's a Web site that brings people together to generate new ideas, products, and designs. If all goes according to plan, the event's great minds and celebs will converge on Kluster's virtual world to turn an idea, in the course of 72 hours, into a prototype—ideally something that will help fight disease, slow global warming, or ease the plight of the poor.

How did Ben Kaufman land a gig at this year's TED? He tends to get what he wants. Three years ago, when he was still in high school, Kaufman persuaded his mother to mortgage their Long Island home for $180,000 of startup capital to make headphones for iPods. He quickly founded a company, Mophie, and got a manufacturing line running in China. He rushed over to iron out a production glitch just days before his high school graduation.