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Early start: These kids are selling apps, starting businesses while still in school

The kids are 12 to 17 years old and they have set up their own companies, pitched products to investors, made documentaries for WWF and also won international awards for a sci-fi film

more lifestyle Updated: Feb 19, 2017 10:35 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
Young entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs Avi Dayani (left), 13 and Nakshh Kohli ,12 came up with an idea for an app called Shanny, or Short Service Nanny.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

What does it take to be a teenager who is CEO or president of his own company? Chutzpah, inventiveness — and parental support.

Not only because a child cannot legally set up a corporation, but because it takes belief to lend your child money for equipment, allow her or him to take time off from school or summer classes to study something they are passionate about.

This combination of confident children who grow up thinking out of the box, and parents who are willing to back them, is creating a generation of entrepreneurs so young, they’re still in school.

“Seeing many successful start-up stories around them has made parents and kids positive and confident about taking risks. We need a new generation of risk takers and that’s exactly what we’re starting to see taking shape,” says Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, entrepreneur and CMD of one of the earliest biotech companies, Biocon.

Shaw was on the speakers at the first-ever India round of Young Entrepreneurs Academy USA (or YEA!), a platform that seeks to groom very young entrepreneurs. This round yielded an app for on-call nannies thought up by a 13-year-old from Gurgaon, and a valet parking service to reduce congestion on the streets, thought up by a 17-year-old from Mumbai.

Meanwhile, the fourth round of the TiE Young Entrepreneurs Program gave us a trio aged 14 to 16 who have created a drink that’s 95% fruit, as their contribution to the fight against diabetes and obesity.

Others, like teen filmmakers Pal and Chin Vardhman and Jayansh Bhartiya, and app developers Shravan and Sanjay Kumaran, are going it alone, with support from their parents and platforms such as the Children’s Film Society of India and World Wildlife Fund.

The Vardhmans bought a flat in Mumbai so their boys could study aspects of filmmaking in their summer breaks. They even home-schooled them for two years so they could make their first film in peace. (It went on to win international awards).

As the app developers’ dad and chief investor Kumaran puts it: “It’s such a thrill to see them, so young, taking their ideas through to implementation. For my boys to meet Apple’s stringent requirements, and to do it at their age, it’s amazing.”

IT’S LIKE UBER, BUT INSTEAD OF A CAB, YOU CALL A NANNY

Nakshh Kohli (left) and Avi Dayani ’s app locate baby-sitters near you. Select the one that suits you best. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

“A year ago, my mom had to travel abroad for work, our maid stopped coming and I saw my dad struggling without help,” says Gurgaon boy Avi Dayani, 13. “So I came up with an idea for an app called Shanny, or Short Service Nanny.”

Avi is now in Class 7 at Shri Ram School and his partner in class and friend, 12-year-old Nakshh Kohli, is his partner in this business.

Basic market research has been completed. “We did a survey of 20 people in the neighbourhood and were surprised to find out how much people are ready to pay for an educated babysitter,” says Kohli. “The average price we kept hearing was Rs 1,000 for two hours. We have fixed on Rs 700. We will take a 30% commission, and the nanny will take home Rs 490.”

Watch Avi and Nakshh share the story of how they came up with the baby-sitting service app here:

Local residents’ associations are helping the boys put together a list of babysitters. “So far, it’s mostly college students and grandmothers. We are asking for government ID and references for each applicant,” Dayani says.

The app will give you options of baby-sitters near you with their ratings and personal details. You select the one that suits you best.

The target audience of their app is nuclear families, where both parents work.

The idea has won the first prize of Rs 50,000 at YEA! India. The boys will register their company and launch a beta version of the app in March, with Dayani as CEO and Kohli as CFO.

“YEA! is helping us with the legalities. My parents, Nakshh’s parents and my uncle, who is a lawyer, will also help,” says Dayani.

Avik Chattopadhyay, Dayani’s father business partner, is investing Rs 15,000 in Shanny. Radhika Aggarwal, founder of e-tailing website Shopclues, has invested Rs 25,000.

“What caught my attention with Shanny was that it aimed to solve a very persistent and age-old problem,” Aggarwal says. “As a working mother, I know how difficult it is to find a good babysitter. Shanny aims to provide a much-needed solution in this space, and that made me decide to invest.”

BUILDING APPS FOR PLAY, PRAYER IN CHENNAI

Shravan Kumaran (right),16, is president and Sanjay, 15 is CEO of GoDimensions, the company they set up in 2011.

Growing up, Shravan and Sanjay Kumaran from Chennai idolised Steve Jobs. The way some children dream of being firefighters or pilots, they dreamed of someday creating an app for the Apple App Store.

They were so in love with computers that their dad, Kumaran, a software engineer, taught them some basic computer programming. And that was all it took.

By age 11 and 10 respectively, they were reading advanced material and doing complex programming on their own. Sanjay was still only in Class 3.

In 2011, they developed their first app — Catch Me Cop — an iOS version of the offline chor-police game. They registered their partnership firm in December 2011, and submitted their app.

“Apple has a very rigid testing procedure. If there’s one bug or it’s not visually appealing, they reject it. They generally take at least two weeks to get back. But they accepted our first app in a week. I still remember the day. Dad brought home a cake to celebrate,” says Shravan, grinning.

Since then, the boys have developed seven apps for Apple Store — gaming apps, prayer apps, helpline and emergency number apps — and three for Android’s PlayStore. In 2015, they launched their first app for the new Windows Phone Store.

“In non-exam time, we spend an hour a day on our company. We have a thousand ideas in our heads, so we need to decide which ones are feasible,” says Shravan, 16, president of GoDimensions. “At exam time, we brainstorm while having tea together.”

In addition to their computer, they have invested in an iPad, an Android phone and a Windows phone.

“We treat our dad as our venture capitalist. For each device, we pitch our app ideas to him to justify the cost,” Shravan says.

Also, watch Riya Sankhe, another 16-year-old entrepreneur talking about her company that will make trendy khadi apparel , here:

Their investor has very positive feedback. “I’m thrilled that they have seen their ideas through to implementation. To meet Apple’s stringent requirements, and to do it at their age, it’s amazing,” Kumaran says.

It’s not just fun and games. We tried their Emergency Booth app — which promises to put you in touch with local ambulance, fire brigade and police services wherever you are. And we got a call, instantly, from a local ambulance service in Mumbai!

Their apps have had an average of 4,000 to 10,000 downloads each. The brothers were named Young Achievers of Digital India by CNN-IBN last July.

The target audience is everyone, they say.

“We have started this company not to make money but to fuel our passion. All our apps are free to download and anyone can use them — young, old, children,” says Sanjay, 15, CEO of GoDimensions.

Two months ago they have developed a new Android app called GoDonate, which helps you share your excess food with a charity or orphanage near you.

In 2015, Tamil Nadu governor Konijeti Rosaiah conferred upon them the Young Achievers Award given by Space Kidz India, a platform for young scientists.

“We gave the award to Shravan and Sanjay because they were the youngest app developers in the country. During the ceremony, it was a delight interacting with them. They are extremely smart kinds and way mature for their age,” says Dr Srimathy Kesan, founder and CEO of Space Kidz India.

VALET PARKING, EVERYWHERE YOU GO

Kevin Thakkar, 17, is designing a GPS-enabled app that will guide car-owners to the nearest valet point. Trained waiting chauffeurs will then take charge of their car and park it for them. (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)

Kevin Thakkar, 17, from Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai participated in the Mumbai leg of the YEA! entrepreneurship contest and won second prize for a business idea called My Valet.

“Living in Bandra, I noticed that most traffic jams were caused or worsened by double parking, illegal parking or drivers waiting in idle vehicles,” Thakkar says. “I conducted an online survey of about 200 adults and found that about 80% were willing to pay for an on-the-spot valet service like the one I was planning to offer.”

Kevin is designing a GPS-enabled app that will guide car-owners to the nearest valet point. Trained waiting chauffeurs will then take charge of their car and park it for them.

Watch Kevin talk about the challenges he is facing while launching his app here:

“I won Rs 40,000 and I will invest it in my business,” he says. “I plan to launch in May and I will approach tech and app-based companies for investments too. I have started talking to valet providers in Mumbai about costing and other matters.”

“I loved Kevin’s idea,” says Namita Thapar, CEO of Incredible Ventures, the Indian franchise of YEA! USA. “It came from his personal experience and offers a workable solution to an India-specific problem. We have made investments in the ideas that are given highest rating by the expert investor panel. The prize money is seed funding to motivate our budding entrepreneurs.”

A READY-TO-MIX FRUITY DRINK THAT’S MOSTLY REAL FRUIT

Pranavi Vegesna, 16, Raghav YS, 14 and Armaan Kumar, 15 have won first prize with an idea called Juicerr at the Hyderabad leg of TiE Young Entrepreneurs. It’s a fruit powder composition that is 95% fruit and can be stored for six months.

A trio from Hyderabad in Class 9, 10 and 11 — Raghav YS, 14, Armaan Kumar, 15 and Pranavi Vegesna, 16 — participated in the Hyderabad leg of TiE Young Entrepreneurs, a 16-week-long entrepreneurship programme by global non-profit TiE, and won first prize with an idea called Juicerr.

“It’s a fruit powder composition that is 95% fruit and can be stored for six months,” says Raghav.

“With the growing number of cases of diabetes and obesity in our country, people will need a fruit juice which is actually healthy,” says Vegesna.

Raghav’s mother, Yogeeswari Perumal, a professor of pharmacy at Bits Pilani, helped them with the formula for the product.

“We went to a mall and did random sampling with 20 strangers. We got feedback about the flavour and that helped us to make it better,” says Kumar.

Read: School kids break stereotypes, bring in parents to meet transgenders

“The big challenge for us was time-management, because we had school assignments and examinations. But that’s what entrepreneurship is all about. It is doing something different every day without disturbing your regular routine,” says Raghav.

The targets group is health-conscious people of any age who don’t have the time to make fresh juice every day.

The team will now represent the state in an international competition to be held in California in June, along with five teams from other Indian states. So far, TiE has pledged Rs 50,000, but if they win in the US, they stand to win Rs 10 lakh to help them set up their product line.

“One of my friend’s fathers has shown interest too, but we will only talk to investors after we come back from the US. We will then have a clearer launch plan,” Raghav says.

“These three kids stood out from the start with their focus on a physical product that brings tangible benefits to people’s health,” says Venkatesh Narasimhan, co-chair of TiE Hyderabad and senior VP at Advance Technologies – Redpine Signals. “Their enthusiasm and thoroughness impressed us all and we are hopeful they will make their mark on the world stage too.”

MAKING FILMS FOR THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND

In September, to help raise awareness on “the issues that urban trees face”, Jayansh Bhartiya,17, made a series of documentary films called The Speaking Tree series, which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has used to promote their Adopt a Tree campaign. (Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Jayansh Bhartiya, 17, a student of Modern School, Delhi, began his film career by participating in the annual FILMIT competition held by Intach, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, for films made by students on their city’s heritage. He was 12.

In the years that followed he won Intach awards for films on teaching children about their cultural roots and about the symbolism of colours in our country.

While volunteering with an NGO called Indus Action, his storytelling took a new direction.

“I made a film called SLATE, about a school-going boy who gifts a slate to a girl who can’t afford school and how, later, with the help of the Right to Education Act, he helps her to go to school,” Bhartiya says.

While making this documentary last year, he had what he considers a life-changing experience.

Watch Jayansh talk about his experiences while making documentaries here:

“I met a boy who told me that his dream was to eat a big meal. I can never forget the look in his eyes when he said this. It made me think about all the urban kids, including me, who are spoilt for choice,” he says. Since then, Bhartiya has been making films about subjects that matter.

In September, to help raise awareness on “the issues that urban trees face”, he made a series of documentaries called The Speaking Tree series, which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has used to promote their Adopt a Tree campaign. The films are on their YouTube channels and social media page.

“When Jayansh came to show us his films, we were excited to see how a young boy was using the medium of film. And the message coincided with WWF-India’s Adopt a Tree campaign,” says Vrinda Nagar, communications officer at WWF India. “Jayansh’s films are special because they are relatable. He is currently working on our Water-Tales campaign to bring urban citizens closer to wetlands. Jayansh’s film is in the process of being edited and will be published on our social media pages later this month.”

AWARD-WINNING ANIMATORS

Four years ago, when Chin and Pal Vardhman were in Class 7, they made a sci-fi movie about two boys and an alien. The film, The Adventure of Palchingiri Begins, was finished in 2015. They are now 16.

When Pal and Chin Vardhman, twin brothers from Udaipur, were in Class 2, they fell in love with digital visual effects. They would take pictures and create overlays of special effects on them. Their mother, Manju, an artist, noticed this and started finding avenues for them to pursue their passion.

At 8, Pal signed up for a course at the Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC) in Mumbai. At 10, he did an advanced animation course at Seagull Animation & Gaming Academy (SAGA), Udaipur, and a screenplay course from Digital Academy – The Film School, also in Mumbai. The parents bought a flat in Mumbai so they could live there while their children were pursuing their passion in the summer breaks.

“One can do a course at MAAC only if you have passed high school. They didn’t want to take me. But dad sat down with the faculty and showed them my work, the 2D and 3D games that I have developed. They were impressed,” says Pal, grinning.

Chin did a short acting course at Institute of Creative Excellence (ICE) in Mumbai when he was 10. “The institutes were sceptical about taking so young a student, but the work Pal did at home convinced them,” says Manju.

Four years ago, when they were in Class 7, they decided to make a sci-fi movie about two boys and an alien. Going to school in the morning and then working on the film through the night was taking a toll, so their parents opted to homeschool them for two years.

The 51-minute film, The Adventure of Palchingiri Begins, was finished in 2015. “We turned our home into a studio for it. A simple camera, household lights, a baggage trolley, a sheet for our green screen and our computer were our only equipment. Me, Chin, mummy and our pet dog Tiger acted in the film. Though we stopped going to school for two years, we had the best of time,” says Pal.

Watch The Adventure of Palchingiri Begins here:

The movie won the Platinum Reel Award (Student Category) at the Nevada Film Festival in the US, 2015, besides being screened at numerous international film festivals, including the San Diego Film Festival, the International Children’s Film Festival India (ICFFI), Hyderabad; and the National Children’s Film Festival in Jaipur in 2016.

The brothers are in Class 11 now, studying via the National Institute of Open Schooling. Their dream is to go to US to study advanced VFX and filmmaking.

“The Adventure of Palchingiri… is an ode to the power of learning,” says Shravan Kumar, CEO of the Children’s Film Society of India. “What is unusual about Pal and Chin is how they have used the internet to learn on their own. They studied animation, make their own films and even act in them. It’s a phenomenal effort.”

PLATFORMS FOR KIDS

* New platforms are helping entrepreneurial youngsters take their ideas and turn them into companies and products.

* Two of these platforms are TYE (TiE Young Entrepreneurs), a program begun in Boston in 2005, to help young teens build startups, and YEA! (Young Entrepreneurs Academy), launched in the US in 2004 to help middle- and high-school students turn entrepreneurs.

* In 2016, YEA! tied up with Incredible Ventures in India and invited children from Classes 6 through 12 in Mumbai and Delhi to pitch ideas.

* They were then mentored and groomed over five months, via sessions with successful entrepreneurs. Finally, they participated in an investor panel shark tank session where they pitched their business ideas for real funding.

* The TYE Indian chapter started in 2013 and is open to kids from Classes 9 through 12.

* They are divided into groups based on their skills and mentored by an established entrepreneur.

* They also then pitch their idea, and the winner goes on to compete globally for a top prize of Rs 10 lakh.