BANGALORE: Call them India’s Restless Teenage Inc. Some are still in high school, some barely out of it; but they are already into fascinating ventures – a transaction platform for bitcoins, applications for Google Glass, and more. They are even mentoring older entrepreneurs on technology and business.
Take Kshitij Kumar, 18, who has just finished class XII from Khaitan Public School in Delhi, and is heading to the University of Illinois for a degree in business and computer science. He started a magic tricks tutorial portal called Horizonmagic.com when he was 10. Four years ago, he started a software firm called Blix that created products, including Snappy that allows users to covert pictures into any format and Mathomatic, a free math problem-solving tool.
Now he’s working on an app called Getcaption.io for Google Glass. “If you are talking to someone whose language you do not understand, the app will show you, on the glass, the translation of what is being said in a language that you understand – like subtitles in a movie,” Kumar says. Work is still in progress. The app offers translated subtitles only in English. It can also take pictures of, say, each of three people in a conversation, and lay out the entire conversation in a WhatsApp-like format.
Joel John, 19, has just joined Symbiosis University in Pune for a degree in business administration. People call him a bitcoins guru. “There’s nothing that he does not know about bitcoins,” says Brij Bhasin of GSF, a startup accelerator and investor that has a programme called High School Geeks that not only helps children like John and Kumar to build their businesses, but also uses them to educate their older entrepreneur members.
When John was 15, he started a server rental business for gamers and then another that allowed people who took surveys to, say, read a book for free online. “In these stints, I developed an interest in payment processing. I began to research the area, and delved into bitcoins. I thought that with bitcoins, one could bring down remittance charges to a fraction of what money transfer companies charge. It would even allow, say a farmer in Mizoram with no registered business and no bank account to do business with someone in the US,” John says. Alongside his Symbiosis course, John is now busy building a bitcoin transaction platform that he hopes the world will do business on one day.
Even about a decade ago, kids with such accomplishments in business were a rarity. In 2000, Suhas Gopinath, then 16, established a web design company in Bangalore and was celebrated as the world’s youngest CEO. But today there are many such kids, thanks to the encouragement by parents, schools, the bustling startup environment and technology platforms that allow for easy discoverability of talent.
Sharad Sharma, co-founder of software product association iSpirt, narrates a story about a parent who was worried about his son’s performance at school, and wanted Sharma to guide him. “I reluctantly agreed and found that the kid, Raghav Sood, had already developed several Android apps and had written a book on building an augmented reality application that had been published by Springer (an international publisher of tech and science books). And I wondered if the parent was mocking me. Who was I to guide a kid like that!” he says.
Sharma attributes the phenomenon of early-age accomplishments partly to the mobile internet. “It is so enabling. You can do programming from anywhere. Also, these technologies have made discovering a Ramanujan so much easier. Ramanujan (the brilliant mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan who died in 1920) was recognized only because of a letter he sent to Hardy (English mathematician GH Hardy),” he says.
Organizations like GSF are also beginning to actively engage with this segment. “I got hands-on experience on how to scale up a business and got access to GSF’s network of mentors,” says Gurgaon-based Gautam Gupta, who at 13 co-developed a social media sharing plugin called SexyBookmarks that was later acquired by Shareaholic. He has just finished school from Amity International and is heading to the University of Waterloo, Canada, for a course in software engineering.
Another GSF high-school geek is Anmol Maini, who built a robotic arm at school and now is envisioning movable walkways in cities that can obviate the need for cars. Microsoft has a student partner programme in India, and Pratik Mohapatra, 16, an 11th class student of National Public School, Bangalore, is its youngest partner. Mohapatra has developed multiple apps for Microsoft and Google, and has won several competitions, including one of Microsoft’s recently that entitles him to a trip to watch the US Formula 1 Grand Prix.
“These kids have a good sense of apps, technology and about how younger people use them. We learn as much from them as they learn from us,” says GSF’s Bhasin.