Most 17 year-olds are focused on hanging out with friends, sports, getting into college, or their summer vacation plans.
Then there are those exceptional ones who can’t wait until adulthood to get their ideas off the ground. Ashoka’s Youth Venture program has just announced the winners of its nation-wide Technology for a Better World Campaign, which supports teams of young people age 13 to 18 who fall into the latter category and work to tackle social issues with technology.
The winners receive support for their project through mentorships, access to seed funding and fundraising tools, and interactions with the Youth Venture's network of partners and more than 4,000 Venture Teams worldwide.
One of Ashoka’s campaign winners is Griffin Latulippe, 17. Along with a few of his high-school colleagues, Latulippe co-founded InvenTech Enterprises, a company that is set to bring two assistive technology devices for disabled people to market.
Inspired by his own experiences living with muscular dystrophy, Griffin began imagining how wheelchairs and walkers could be improved. The company's prototypes for a wheelchair that provides easier access to a rider’s backpack, and an adjustable walker, are now being finalized.
Dowser: How did you come up with these assistive technology devices?
Griffin Latulippe: Along with four other high school students in the Junior Engineering Technical Society, I entered into the National Design Challenge. Our goal was to create a device to help disabled people in the workplace. We came up with the wheelchair first. It has an arm that swings around so you can easily grab things from the backpack most wheelchair users have to carry their things. Our interest in disabled people’s needs grew, and in the second year, we created a walker for going up and down stairs, with front legs that expand and retract.
When did the project evolve into a business plan?
People suggested that we market our devices. We were working with a lawyer, who was mentoring us, and he urged us to start a company. We formed the official LLC in August 2010, and now we’re finalizing the paperwork. After we finish the prototypes, we will take them to various manufacturers.
What kind of distribution are you envisioning?
We will sell as many products as there’s need. If that means globally, we’d love that. The goal is not necessarily to make money. The goal is to help people.
What have you found most challenging about creating a product for the market and starting a company?
Learning the legal aspects. Generally learning how to work in the "real" world. Before starting the company, we were like a youth club. Now we’re dealing with other people, and it’s becoming harder to manage.
How are you deciding positions within the company?
This has been a major issue. Each person, of the four of us, has different titles. But there’s no hierarchy. At this point, there is no one CEO. Because we don’t want to get mixed up in, "I’m this guy, you’re that guy." We want to focus on the devices we’re making.
• This interview has been edited and condensed.