Meet Eli Wachs - founder of High School HeroesX which mobilizes high school students in solving local problems. Eli's boundless energy contributes to his work as an analyst at a VC firm and his newest tech startup, Decdis, which is fighting the flu.
You got involved with entrepreneurship pretty young. Could you tell us what inspired you to start a company at age 15?
A story I’ve told a few too many times was that I found my inspiration in the book Abundance, authored by Peter Diamandis, which I read as a high school freshman. In awe of the futuristic technologies he described, and impressed by the success of his platform of using incentivized competition to effect exponential change in the world, I sent him an email. After a few phone calls with him, I launched High School HeroesX. My mission was to emulate his XPrize, and empower students across the world to solve local problems. We do this by recruiting students in a particular geographic area, designing a challenge around a topic about which they are passionate, creating an advisory board of experts in the field, and then letting them create their own ways of solving that problem over a year. The winner receives grant money to expand the scope of their project.
I’ve always had boundless energy for doing, an enthusiasm for learning, and a desire to tackle social issues. I saw entrepreneurship as a way to combine these traits. For example, recently I’ve become fascinated by city grids and infrastructure (probably not the best line for a dating profile, but beyond true). This allure has led me to write papers about city planning in 19th century St. Petersburg and 20th century China, as well as scavenge the web for articles and videos exploring infrastructure such as roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, and airplanes, around the world. Wanting to use my platform to contribute to this area, I spoke to high schoolers in different parts of the country to design a potential challenge around this topic. The result was a $10,000 challenge to improve driving in America - whether it be by helping cities better direct traffic or combating distracted teen driving - and sponsoring hackathons around the competition. To me, that is entrepreneurship. And it doesn’t have a “You must be this tall to ride” equivalent for age; find a passion, and build an engine which allows you to improve that area.
How did you get involved with the Next Gen Community, and what has it meant to you?
At the first Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in 2014, the first event was 21+, so Forbes set up a separate area for the under 21 attendees. There weren’t even 20 people in that room, giving everyone the chance to get to know each other. This, probably unfortunately for them, lead to me meeting Next Gen co-founders Justin and Dylan. Luckily, they became close friends, and I can trace my NGS roots back to the first conference in Austin.
I can’t say enough about both the conferences and online community. NGS has to be one of the best group of mentors and doers around. Whenever I seek advice or useful connections, it is the first place I go.
What have you learned working as an Analyst at a Venture Capital Firm, Heroic Ventures?
Heroic Ventures primarily focuses on seed and pre-seed companies, which means we get to look at a good amount of potential deals and decks each day. The fund primarily focuses on High Tech and Biotech, but we come across startups from a variety of sectors. In a current climate that seems down on the future in America, the work has felt quite inspiring to see how the technology of tomorrow I read about in Abundance is being used to change today. Maxims you’ll hear at any startup conference have been reimbued in me as well: your team can be as important as your product, passion shows in a pitch, and that there are untapped resources out there that startups should take better advantage of. The final lesson learned is the value of mentorship. I’ve been lucky to closely interact with the three General Partners of the firm, incredibly intelligent, thoughtful leaders. I truly feel all you need is one person to show you the way for something in life; I’ve been lucky at Heroic to have three.
Can you tell us about YSI?
I first heard of Young Sustainable Impact (YSI) through the YSI community! It is an incredible incubator based in Norway, started just two years ago by young Norwegians who had attended the COP 21 Paris Climate accords. The goal of YSI is to “find the best young entrepreneurs” to create a better world. Ten thousand people applied from around the world this past year, of whom 25 were selected from some 15 countries. Teams were formed, who then underwent an intensive four month online program to develop an early stage startup. This past August, the teams went to Oslo for a two week program. 16 hour days allowed the teams to speed up their process, constantly meeting with industry leaders, mentors, and at the end prospective investors. I was lucky enough to be one of the selected entrepreneurs this past year. My now team of four represents Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tunisia, Canada, and The States. Speaking weekly, whether on or offline, it’s been an incredible journey.
And what is Decdis?
Decdis is the result of this journey - the startup my team and I are working on after YSI. Two people on my team, Rialda Spahic and Junaid Gil, are brilliant coders. I’ll even embarrass Rialda and shamelessly plug the fact that she is genuinely the poster child for CS in Bosnia. We wanted to leverage this technical ability to do our part in preventing what we (and Bill Gates :) ) see as a bigger threat to human life than another world war: a flu pandemic. We believe there is more than enough data out there to predict flu spread in offices and schools. With our AI software, flu season won’t be four months in your area, it will be flu day in January and then flu week in February. By preventing breaking points we almost see a reverse network effect in health. We think parents should not have to guess when to really worry when a few of their children’s peers are coughing; we believe presenteeism can be made archaic.
We are in the process of building our tech, and are hoping to pilot in 2018.
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