Meet the Brightest Young Entrepreneurs: ‘Be Open-minded and Jump at New Opportunities’

by Diana Drake

All you budding entrepreneurs out there…ready to feel inspired? Forbes, an American business magazine, has published the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list of hot, young innovators, from industries as diverse as entertainment and music, to energy and technology. The list, an annual feature since 2011, is made up of 20 different categories, each featuring 30 stars under the age of 30.

The complete list of 600 profiles underscores the spirit of innovation, tech-savvy, work ethic and social media marketing that defines today’s business landscape. In its “30 Under 30 2017 By the Numbers” segment, Forbes shares the following observations about this year’s young business luminaries: Elon Musk is their No. 1 dream mentor, by far; 35% believe grit is the most important trait for entrepreneurs, followed by passion; and 57% started their business to solve a problem. The three “go-to apps?” Instagram, Slack and Twitter.

KWHS navigated quickly to the 30 Under 30 “Youngest” category, which highlights 30 rising business stars ranging in age from 14 to 23. In amongst such spotlight grabbers as gymnast Simone Biles, 19; musician Alessia Cara, 20; and actor Ashton Sanders, 21, were some lesser-known successful business celebs.

Kai Kloepfer, a 19-year-old MIT student, is a leader in smart gun technology, founding Biofire Technologies to develop a gun that can only be fired when it reads its owner’s fingerprint. Rohan Suri, 17, is the founder of Averia Health Solutions, an Oakton, Virginia, company that uses an eye-tracking device to diagnose concussions. And Los Angeles high school student Skyler Grey, 16, has won world acclaim for his artwork and unique painted murals.

Forbes 30 Under 30 standout Keiana Cave, 19, is founder of Mare, a startup that invents molecules to solve big problems. Cave began researching BP’s Gulf oil spill when she was only 15. At that time, after developing, patenting and publishing a method that is now used by the Environmental Protection Agency for the detection of toxins during oil spills, she transferred from a lab at the University of New Orleans to one at Tulane University. She is currently a member of Tulane’s Van Bael Lab, where she conducts assays on bacterial endophytes.

This past summer, Cave, who is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan studying chemical engineering, became the youngest person to ever attend the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. While there, she started a company in a week, pitched her startup to a panel of investors and worked with a team to create a molecule to neutralize phototoxins.

As a result of her many research discoveries and her title as the winner of the International Science and Engineering Fair in 2015, the Lusher Charter High School grad even has an asteroid named in her honor. NASA renamed the orbiting rock “2000 GD136” for Cave when she was a senior.

KWHS caught up with Cave between classes at the University of Michigan. Her one-word response to her latest achievement as a Forbes 30 Under 30? “Overwhelming!”

KWHS: What inspired you to begin researching BP’s oil spill when you were only 15? Why such high aspirations at such a young age?

Keiana Cave: Something I haven’t talked a lot about is that before I started researching the oil spill, I was a ballerina. I also did swim, track and cheerleading, and I was in a pre-professional program for ballet that was pretty intense. I dropped out of that program because I didn’t want to commit that much time to it anymore and I didn’t think it was fair to the other girls who did. At that point, I felt like my schedule was really empty. So, my friend suggested I do summer research. I applied for a program at the University of New Orleans and came up with this idea for the oil spill project. Honestly, I was pretty average at ballet, so I wasn’t motivated to be the best at it. And once I started doing research, I realized that I really liked it and I did see myself being the best at it.

KWHS: How has your freshman year at the University of Michigan been going?

Cave: There’s this big obsession in high school around getting into a really good school. You may not have done a ton of research on the school, but you know you want to apply. Going to a school that fits you personally is what matters the most. I feel at home at Michigan. I had offers from schools ranked higher, but it is all about what will help you succeed. I did visit a lot of schools during my college search, but when I came to the Michigan campus, there was something about it. I feel the academic and extracurricular is very balanced here and they are supportive of outside projects. Of course, during my college visit here, they pulled me into the financial aid office and offered me a full ride on the spot. That might have had something to do with my choice, as well!

KWHS: You hear so much talk about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) careers and the importance of following these paths. You have already lived into your love of science and research in many ways. Why do you value it so much and why do you think it has been so successful for you?

Cave: None of it has been forced upon me. When I was doing ballet, I felt like I was being forced to do it. Once I broke free of that, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was a task. There is a lot of pressure in high school to be well rounded, get good grades, play sports, be artistic. Yes, a lot of colleges look for those things, but you also have to stay true to yourself. Don’t force yourself to like something. I saw a lot of my friends struggling with too many extracurricular activities just to do them. They were miserable, and now in college they have no idea what they actually want to do. Try a lot of things until you find one that clicks.

KWHS: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Cave: I have no idea where I will be in the future. I’ve tried planning out my future in the past, and what I’m actually living now is nothing like I thought it would be. For example, my sophomore year of high school I was going to major in Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M, work for Shell and be on an oil rig the rest of my life. If I had stuck to that original plan, I would not be where I am today. Be open-minded and jump at new opportunities.

KWHS: You are now the founder of a start-up business, which wasn’t part of your plan. How does that feel?

Cave: No matter what your interests are, whether music, science or history, entrepreneurship allows you to gain this platform to express your ideas and spread awareness to everyone about issues in your field. Even if you’re not a business major, you can still start something!

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Using the “Related Links” tab, take a look at the full Forbes 30 Under 30 lists. Can you draw any themes from the profiles of these business rock stars? What impresses you most? Least? What surprises you? Who would you add to the list?

During her sophomore year in high school, Keiana Cave wanted to major in Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M. What happened? Is she disappointed that this didn’t work out? Why or why not?

Was ballet Keiana’s true passion? Discuss with a group her decision to change direction. Do you think it was easy for her to do? Can you relate to her choices? Why or why not?

27 comments on “Meet the Brightest Young Entrepreneurs: ‘Be Open-minded and Jump at New Opportunities’

  1. Being an entrepreneur comes with the responsibilities most people could not handle. The amount of focus and commitment that is needed to be a successful entrepreneur cannot be taught and is thought to be primarily based on the person itself. Entrepreneurship is almost like a trait that someone is born with only it can only be discovered by yourself. Also, as much as someone would want to manage everything, it is mentally and physically impossible. At first, maybe things can be run at your pace and style, but eventually business picks up and you can no longer grow the company and manage other needs all at the same time. Never get discouraged because, with hard work, all the benefits and achievements follow. Being an entrepreneur means you can achieve the freedom you always wanted with your life. Every day a new goal or achievement should be set to keep the mind on track and wanting more and the business will grow uncontrollably.

  2. I have figured out that for me, it is a definite necessity to love the career path one takes. I am extremely adamant about following a path that I am passionate about, and the student that was interviewed in this article confirmed that for me. Doing something that you feel like you are being forced into will not benefit you, but decrease your chances at finding what you truly enjoy and are good at. It is also important to realize and remember that you are human, and cannot juggle a million different things at once. Forcing yourself to do as many extracurriculars as possible won’t make you the best at all of them, but make you lose who you really are and forget what you really love to do. Believing in yourself is crucial to entrepreneurship, and is necessary to succeed with one’s own business or attempt. Knowing and owning passions is critical to love your job and the careers that you choose to do – other people’s’ opinions about what YOU do should not matter, if you truly understand your calling.

  3. This article was really inspiring to me and it made me feel like I should be more open minded or else I could be missing out on some really great opportunities. During the article Cave said that she felt forced doing ballet and she had no motivation to be the best at ballet because she did not enjoy it. Once she started doing researching she felt like she could be the best because she enjoyed it so much she automatically became more motivated. In order to excel at something that you want to do in your life you have to enjoy it, if you do not enjoy then you will have no drive to improve in it. I am the type of person that goes for what is easiest not what I enjoy the most, and this article made me realize that I should go after what I enjoy because I could be missing out on so many great opportunities.

  4. For someone who has not decided on what to pursue in life this article gave me something to look forward to. Going from being an adolescent to adulthood you are able to choose what you want to do in life without the pressures of others guiding you or forcing you such as parents. The forcing and guiding seems right when you are younger because you have not experienced the responsibilities of adulthood. When you become an adult you are given total responsibility of your own life which may inspire you to pursue what makes you happy and not what makes your parents happy. I now can look forward to what I find is the most enjoyable career path for me when I finally go on to college and this article has shown me how great it is when you finally find your passion.

    • Thanks for your comment, Joseph! And the good news is that your passion can change through life, which gives you all kinds of opportunities to learn and grow!

  5. Being a person that have the same interest in science and engineering allowed me to greatly relate to her and understand her perspectives. Reading the article made me think to myself ‘Would I have been able to do the same thing she did?’ At first I felt as though it was out of reach and impossible but I after reading her replies in the interview, I felt as though she was not this “out of this world” person as I initially thought but a regular person that happened to find her passion and pursue it, making it reality. Similar to her, I also feel lost in exactly what I want to do in the next few years that follow but keeping an open mind and finding just exactly what it is I am passionate about will allow me to live the life I want. I should not try to “fit” into society’s view but try to “enter” into society as an individual. I feel more inspired and optimistic in finding the field of study that fits my passion in the future.

    • Good luck, Jackie! I really like what you said about being able to relate to Keiana. It’s so true that sometimes we feel like rules and opportunities apply to someone else and not to us. The truth is, we all have what it takes to do great things!

  6. This article was really inspiring to me and I’m glad that I was open-minded or I would lose a lot of great opportunities. While reading the article I could relate with Cave about being forced into something that would not be very motivative to give an 100% in something that I am not passionate just stinks. Sorry if I am repeating my thoughts but I am glad that Cave was able to find something that would better opportunities. Reading this helps me becoming more open-minded and should jump into new opportunities even if could not benefit me.

    • Thanks for your comments, Jeffrey! I totally agree that it’s so hard to give 100% to something that you don’t enjoy, especially if you have to do it every day. I think it’s encouraging to hear that you may not have yet discovered what you truly love. Being open-minded will expose you to all kinds of new ideas and paths.

  7. Being someone who is graduating from high school this year and going into college undecided, I found this article to be very informative and worthwhile for students who are in the same predicament as I am. Having this new sense of freedom to choose the path I would like to pursue is hard without resources, however this article is the resource that students like me need to help them get on the right track.

    • Hi Angelo. Thanks for your comments! So many 18 year olds haven’t figured out what they want to do with their lives. And for those who have, college is such a time of learning that it could change…and probably will. Keep your options open and explore all you can. Good luck!

  8. The lesson that resonated with me the most in this article is to stay true to yourself. In the college application process, oftentimes you feel like you need to check off as many extracurricular boxes as you can. While it is important to be well-rounded, it is even more important to make sure that your genuine interest shine through. Discover your passion and you will enjoy every task that you undertake.

    • You are so right, Dante! Truth helps us in so many ways, and especially in communicating our authentic self to the world. That can be the hardest task, especially when we think we need to say and be someone else — someone who fits the classic mold. We are all individuals! Our unique qualities are actually our greatest assets.

  9. I found this article to be very useful and very inspiring. What I liked best about the article is that it is very relatable. For a student that knows what he wants to do, but fears that down the line his major or goal might change this made me feel better about the decisions I have made so far. I am not that open minded though and this article motivated me to be quite more open minded.

    • Thanks for your comments, Jeffrey! I think it’s great that you have decided what you want to do and are setting goals to achieve it. Good luck! It is exciting to have a target. And if new experiences influence you to follow a different path, that’s OK too. There is no right or wrong path to figuring out your future.

  10. Reading the article makes me question if I could potentially accomplish what young entrepreneurs have accomplished. I am inspired because there are times where I have felt lost and unsure of the path that I want to take in my life. I wish to remain open-minded to new ideas in order to enhance myself and raise my impact on society.

    • I can so relate to your comments, Sienna. I do know, though, that if you love ideas and learning (which I bet you do), you can do just about anything. It sounds cliché, but honestly knowledge is power. It empowers us to think critically and figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. Good luck nurturing and discovering your own powerful potential!

  11. This article is very inspiring seeing as Cave was able to take action upon her passions while be flexible for the future. Sometimes people become too consumed in becoming everything and everyone, which proven repeatedly to be a flawed principle. As Cave shows, passion engenders action and provokes discovery. The message of this article is very applicable to younger people who are in the bounds of discovering their distinct passions and focusing to optimize their potential.

    • I agree, Kira! Either we want to be everything or just one thing and we don’t leave room to explore and process. It’s important to step back and reflect on how certain experiences make us feel. Are we inspired or just plain tired? Good luck!

  12. I found the article to be very inspiring and motivational because seeing how Cave veer from her path and optimizing her full potential, it gave me the confidence to do the same. It gave me the confidence to be more open-minded and because of that, I seem to have not missed the opportunities that was handed to me. This however, can be relatable to others as well because most aspires to be everything and to stick to their goal and career path. What I learned was that by doing so, young people are not able to chase after their passions and they are not able to optimize their full potential.

    • Hi Nhat! So much pressure to figure out who we are and what we want to be at a young age. It can be overwhelming! The best way to discover the right fit is to explore, explore, explore — through books, podcasts, conversations and hands-on experiences like internships. Eventually, your heart, your mind and your career path will merge.

  13. That is so brave of Keiana Cave! The section where she talks about being a ballerina, on track and a cheerleader all while researching the BP oil spill is beyond extraordinary and is something that takes heart, skill and most importantly determination. She handles all if this pressure with grace and reading this inspires others to explore other areas of study and that hard work and determination will get you very, very far. phenomenal read!

  14. it was a great article. I think it is a great idea to explore different careers that you might be interested in. it’s always good to expose yourself to different things as you decide what careers you want to work towards. The article was very inspiring i really want pursue what i want to do. we could all do what we love if we pursue it!

  15. This article truly inspired me. It taught me that what you think might be your life in the future can completely change. This is because you change as a person, as you get older. You start to explore new things and find different interest. So, what you are doing right now you may not be doing in the future. You should be open to try new things or new careers, so you can see what you’re truly interested in. Also this article taught me, no matter how young you are, you can do whatever you put your mind to. Follow what you believe, work hard, and your hopes and dreams will come true. Very helpful and inspiring.

  16. This article is extremely inspiring. It is crazy to think that there are people my age, and a little older, that are already starting their own businesses. As a future business major, this article was helpful in making me realize that even as a business major, there are so many different paths I can take. Though I want to be in concert promotions and advertising as of right now, that can always change. Cave had her whole life planned out, much like me, and the complete opposite happened. I feel more confident in being open-minded and saying yes to the great opportunities that will be presented to me.

  17. Just like what Save said regarding self-identity, an often-overlooked factor during the college admissions process for high school students is their independence and “self-drivenness.”

    What separates an independent student from an elite one is whether or not a student’s extracurriculars are cohesive, self-initiated, and oriented towards your true identity.

    Cave’s decision to break free from her coerced and so-called passion in ballet metaphorically symbolized her freedom from the encaged pressure of societal norms. Yet, students tend to neglect the joys that should automatically come with their extracurricular commitments and not feel as though they are burdens, responsibilities, or chores necessary to build the stepping stones to gain access to a prestigious institution.

    In another sense, the college admissions process is a chance for teenagers to look at themselves in a retrospective view, finding their uniqueness and strings that constructed their identity and their fingerprint in society.

  18. As demonstrated by Cave, entrepreneurship is something that comes to you naturally. By being open-minded, you open gates to future opportunities that you yourself did not know about.

    It is eye-opening to see that people my age are starting such businesses, however, it is also motivational. Doing what you love makes it more enjoyable portrayed by Keinna when she says, “And once I started doing research, I realized that I really liked it and I did see myself being the best at it.”

    There will always be two paths that a person comes across and by choosing the harder one, you prepare yourself for momentary pain but future success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *