Starting them young: India's school-going entrepreneurs

2020-01-30 18:44:25


Did you know that Louis Braille was just 15 years old when he invented the Braille system of reading and writing? Blinded at the age of 3, he overcame his disability to excel in his studies and gained a scholarship for the Royal Institute of Blind Youth in Paris. While still a student there, he developed Braille, a tactile code that allowed blind people to read and write quickly and easily. Nearly 200 years later, another teenager called Shubham Banerjee created a braille printer from a lego set and named it Braigo. Braigo costs just $200 compared to the $2000 cost of a regular braille printer.

Another 15 year old named Joseph Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile using a Ford Model T engine, 4 runners and a handmade propellor. Yes, he’s the same person behind the Bombardier company and went on to invent several other recreational vehicles. Philo Farnsworth was 15 when he created the design diagrams for an electronic TV. Six years later, it transmitted the first images. Since then, he’s garnered over 300 patents in the field of radio and TV. A born tinkerer, he also invented a small fusion reaction device which has been the inspiration for other fusion approaches including the Polywell reactor concept.

Now this was before the internet. Children today have access to enormous learning and information through the internet. Also, tinkering labs are on the rise, allowing them to play with their ideas and test them out in the real world, not just on paper! Which means, of course, that we’re seeing a wave of entrepreneurs and innovators coming out of Indian schools.

Gursimran Singh invented EyeScribe at age 16. It uses a text to speech engine to help the visually impaired read easily. Kavya Vignesh build the “Bee Saver Bot” at age 12, so bees aren’t killed in the process of destroying unwanted beehives. Kalyani Srivastava built a solar powered AC that costs just Rs 1800 - all at the age of 16. Naman Tiwari has 22 apps to his credit at age 14, and at 15, Abhik Saha built his own search engine from scratch and is now turning to antivirus systems, gaming, and learning applications.

These are not isolated prodigies. With a strong cultural focus on education and work ethic, Indian children are poised to succeed in an information economy. All they need is the right opportunities and frameworks to channel these ideas into real world inventions and businesses; that can then cater to real problems facing the world today.

Which is why contests like Volvo Cars’ Voices of Future are so exciting. As part of Volvo Cars’ second BreatheFree campaign, the contest invites inventors, tinkerers, thinkers and dreamers who are still in school, to participate in the global effort to combat environmental problems - specifically air pollution. Volvo Cars’ inspiration for this contest came from their experience in school contact programs in the first BreatheFree campaign in 2018 when they were blown away by the ideas and suggestions they heard.

The contest ended on January 8th, and the results are expected to be announced shortly. The winner takes not only a cash prize, but also an internship with Volvo Cars’ technology partner PerSapien to take their idea forward. Additionally, the top 20 ideas will be curated and published as an e-book, open to all.

This is a great start. But it is just that. What we need now is for others to pick up the baton. The ideas, energy and talent are here. All they need is a sprinkling of capital, and the right tech partnerships. The next wave of innovation could very well be born in our own backyards, we just have to enable it.