Three Florida high schoolers prove to be top-grade entrepreneurs
Cutting Out the Middle Man
Pranjali Awasthi, 14 Sweetwater
Company: Indic Valley
Growing up in India, Pranjali regularly visited her grandfather, a farmer in a small village who also helped children become artisans. She saw the stylish fashions they were making and thought they could be sold globally without middlemen taking all the profit. “That's how my idea came about for creating a system where we can globalize these really local art forms and give artisans a platform to have authority and agency over their work.”
Pranjali immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was 11 and began working on her startup, Indic Valley, last year, assembling a group of 30-plus artisans that her marketplace would feature, structuring the company and working out the shipping process, all details made more difficult by the pandemic. She launched with a selection of all-natural, hand-made wooden bangles, shawls, shoes and sandals.
Indic Valley is all about making a sustainable impact. “Our idea was to create a community that will stick together — a cooperative, in the sense of giving them shares and stocks proportional to how much they contributed to the initiative.”
Pranjali, an 11th-grader at Doral Academy Charter High School, is being considered for Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunus’ global Yunus & Youth social entrepreneurship program.
In addition to her entrepreneurial drive, Pranjali also has won myriad STEM awards. With a research grant from the New York Institute of Technology, she has been doing artificial intelligence research for the past year in a Florida International University lab and plans to seek more research opportunities. In August, Pranjali joined hundreds of mostly adult engineers and app designers for Miami Hack Week, where she worked with a team on a cryptocurrency project.
Kaise Tinglin, 17 West Palm Beach (co-founder Sashary Acosta)
Company: Impact Volunteer Services
As a Palm Beach Gardens High student leader, Kaise gets peppered with this question: Where can I get community service hours? If only students had a free one-stop shop where they could easily find their options on their phones, she thought.
Kaise springs into her elevator pitch: “My business is called Impact Volunteer Services. It is an app and website that provides service opportunities through schools and organizations to high school students in the South Florida region. Our goal is to help students succeed by providing them hours that they need to graduate. And, of course, we do not get paid through having them use the app. We get paid through publishing advertisements on our app.” She says community service matched with their interests can help teens in all kinds of ways. “Our slogan is ‘find your passion through helping others.’ ”
When Kaise researched her business idea last year for a class project, she never imagined she’d spend this past summer making it real: Registering her West Palm Beach startup, building partnerships with community organizations where students like to volunteer, working with app and website developers and developing a marketing strategy. She participated in Startup Summer put on by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a non-profit that provides entrepreneurship education for schools. “It really helped inspire me and push me forward. It's not just, oh, develop an app and then publish it and you're done.”
As a kid, Kaise spent summers in Jamaica with her aunt, who ran a hair salon in her home where clients were treated like royalty. Kaise’s job at Publix also has taught her to be customer-focused. She is now a senior in her school’s four-year Global Business and Entrepreneurship magnet program and is an officer in Future Business Leaders of America at her school, which pre-pandemic was the nation’s largest chapter.
Kaise used winnings from her Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship pitch competitions ($3,000 and counting) plus $1,500 in startup capital provided by NFTE to fund her business. She and the company's co-founder, fellow senior Sashary Acosta, are also researching small-business loans and grants. Longer term vision: To expand beyond South Florida and perhaps serve adults looking for community service opportunities.
Matias Aviñó, 14 Coral Gables
When she picked up her son Matias from school, Lourdes Aviñó always asked him, “What did you do today to help somebody?” One afternoon Matias, then 11, told her he thought of a way to help many people every day, because sometimes kids don’t know where to get help even when they have resources all around them. Matias wrote a business plan, and mother and son soon co-founded YTeach, their self-funded startup that helps schools provide peer-to-peer tutoring for their students. Fellow students, typically National Honor Society members, provide the free tutoring and earn community service hours. Schools pay YTeach a subscription fee to implement the platform. Two years ago, the Aviños launched a test of the program in Matias’ own school, Belen Jesuit Preparatory in Miami-Dade County.
“I wanted a program that could help a lot of people and implement my passion for technology,” says Matias, a Cuban-American who began taking after-school computer classes at Belen in second grade. “I wanted a way for students to share their talents. Everyone has something to offer.”
Amid the pandemic, YTeach switched to virtual tutoring. The YTeach team grew to three, plus interns. They used the time to expand to other schools: Christopher Columbus High in Miami, Cardinal Gibbons in Fort Lauderdale, the Crestview School District in Pennsylvania, 12 school districts in Kentucky and several more schools around the country. Today, more than 10,000 users are registered on its platform, including more than 500 tutors.
Each school gets instructions and access to apps on iOS, Android and through the web, tutor training by YTeach’s team and ready-to-go marketing materials — plus customer support. Schools can offer tutoring virtually, in-person or both. YTeach’s sweet spot is sixth through 12th grade, but now younger students use it, too. Schools get access to data that help them understand learning trends. Based on customer feedback, YTeach this year added an Uber-style “express tutoring option” for last-minute help.
Matias, now in ninth grade, has nationwide aspirations. “My goal, and I know it is a really hard goal, is I want YTeach to be in at least 100 schools in the next two years.”
Read more in Florida Trend's November issue.
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