Published: 12th December 2018
Meet India's youngest entrepreneurs whose ideas will be game-changers in the future
How young do you need to be to have a start-up? Turns out, the answer to that question can bring some pretty low numbers. We catch up with some of the youngest entrepreneurs on the block
When was the first time that you heard the word entrepreneur? A friend asked me this question a few days ago. I pondered. I must have surely been over 14. Also, I remembered how I had a hard time figuring out the spelling back in grade XI and learning the right way to pronounce the word. Both of us, being in our mid-20s, laughed about it. Two days down the line, there I was, waiting on a sofa, right next to a brightly decorated Christmas tree, in the reception of Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. The college and Entrepreneur Cafe, a global movement for entrepreneurs to meet and discuss ideas, where hosting their fourth Annual Global Convention. The 24-hour-long event had a panel for entrepreneurs below 16. A quick look at the profiles of the panelists and I was surprised. They were 14, 13 and 10 respectively and each of them was an entrepreneur!
Five minutes later, I saw three children outside the glass door of the room. They were my interviewees. Ishaan Gangabasi (10), Surabhi Kashyap (14) and Krishiv Agarwal (13) sat down in front of me. All of them, (shorter than the five-feet-tall Christmas tree next to me) had a lot to share — from the stories of their companies to their views on the education system. At the end of the conversation, I couldn't help but ask myself, 'What was I doing when I was their age?'
The maker of desi Siri
Krishiv, a class IX student in Ambitus World School, Hyderabad grew up in a household where the word entrepreneurship was more commonly used than coffee. Son of Nikhil Agarwal, the founder of Entrepreneur Cafe, Krishiv's idea for his AI bot ALPH was born out of his hatred for smartphones. "I hate smartphones. They're cramped and kill everything that is natural," he tells us, pointing at the Jio Phone he uses. When we asked him to tell us more about his product, Krishiv was more than happy to explain. "It is an AI-based bot that manages everything from relations to finances to social media. In simpler words, it is a cheaper version of Siri. Not just that, it has emotional intelligence and understands you better. And by the way, it is not restricted to Apple phones," he says. Krishiv conceptualised it a year ago and developed the prototype a month back.
Daddy cool: When Krishiv shared his entrepreneurial idea with Nikhil Agarwal, he was elated and took his son to a few entrepreneur cafe meetings where he got to learn more
Krishiv has attended a few meetings by Entrepreneur Cafe and was guided by a few adults including his dad, but this 13-year-old has had his share of difficulties. "First of all, it was difficult to find coders who are young and trustworthy," he says. And by young, he meant pre-teens. All the members in his team are either 12 or 13. "We're getting professionals too on board. Currently, all of us work for an hour each day," he says. He is optimistic about getting the demo product out in the next couple of months.
STEMming from within
On the adjacent couch sat Surabhi, who wore a collared gray T-shirt with the logo of her company, Stemlabs. At 14, she's been doing something that most of us aren't able to do even at home — she works with her parents. "It is an emerging company that makes STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning products for kids from class IV. Our goal is to make education accessible all across the world in a fun way," she says. Now, this eighth grader has a serious issue with the Indian education system (And no, she isn't whining about homework). "Kids these days resent education because of the constant mugging up. We have to have more interactive hands-on experience," she says.
Right then, I hear two loud cries of 'yes'. Those were from Ishaan and Krishav. Krishav, who otherwise manages his school work, football and his venture while getting a solid seven hours of sleep every day, tells us how his project got pushed because of excessive pressure from school. Ishaan, on the other hand, finds his textbooks boring. "While learning from textbooks, I only get to imagine things. I don't get to feel the real thing," he says.
I joined the company a few months ago. My parents understand me and I understand them. I help the kids in the respective programmes. I can do anything my mom asks me. I advertise and speak about it
"You got to understand the science behind things and apply them. Also, the constant pressure is demotivating," Surabhi tells us. How is it to work with your parents? I wondered. But this student at Gopalan International School, Bengaluru thinks it is "pretty smooth." "My parents founded the company a year and a half ago. I asked them if I could join them and they said 'Why not'. I was doubtful initially. I thought I won't be able to manage everything, but I did," she says. Surabhi's mother Pavana, on the other hand, says that her daughter is her rock and loves to work with her little colleague, who handles everything from organising workshops to advertising.
Under his micro hood
Sitting next to me was a little boy in a grey hoodie who smiled constantly. "So what is your company about?" I asked him. "Mine is an automobile company. We are just done designing two cars. Now we're researching on its internal parts," says Ishaan. This fifth grader from Gopalan National School, Bengaluru tells us how he and his friend Ashwin were bored one day and thought that they should start a company to make cars. All of us are flabbergasted. "Till now, India has only two car companies on its own. I want us to have more car companies and create vehicles with lesser pollution," he says.
Little vote: In last Karnataka assembly election, Ishaan worked hard to get voters id card for 150 voters and on the election day, he worked with other kids to make people go and vote. This resulted in an increase in voters count from 200 to 2000
Ishaan has a 13-member team right now and all of the members are his classmates. "Ashwin and I planned everything and we took people who are interested. It was a secret for a long time. Until now, our teachers also have no idea about it. I don't want anyone to steal my idea," he tells me. (If you're Ishaan's teacher, please make sure that his idea is safe) Ishaan later discussed the idea with his parents and they were supportive about it too. "My father told me about the structure of a company. So now, we have a Chief Finance Officer and a Chief Technical Officer. We have even calculated the cost of our futuristic car and it will come about Rs 1,00,60,000," he says. Later, Isaan's mother Shruti Gangabasi tells us that right after they reach Bengaluru, they're set to meet a Company Secretary and Ishaan will do all the talking.
Now, what do they have to say at a panel discussion? A lot of things apparently. "We need to get investors. It is really tough to find them," Krishav says. Surabhi nods to that. "Also, we need more publicity," he adds.
As we neared the end of the conversation and the three entrepreneurs were still gearing to spread their infectious energy. As I waved them goodbye and sat down, the same question came to me again. 'What was I doing at their age?'