Being home to some of the world’s most-renowned higher education institutions, Boston is definitely a place for smart young people. But besides the brilliant kids from MIT and Harvard, the city is attracting a variety of “eager young minds” (remember the movie A Beautiful Mind?) that have accomplished a lot more than just academic success.
From launching successful startups to breaking sales records, from raising $50,000 to save an endangered tropical bird, to overcoming the challenges of being a DACA student, we bet that today’s youngest and brightest in Boston will be tomorrow’s talk of the town.
To get to know them ahead of time, we’ve compiled a list of 25 local innovators 25 years old or younger—presented in alphabetical order—who are going places in business, healthcare, tech and more.
Here are BostInno’s 25 Under 25:
1. Rajia Abdelaziz (24) – Co-founder and CEO at InvisaWear.
For many 22-year-olds fresh out of college, a high-paying job offer as a software engineer from Google would be a dream. Rajia Abdelaziz, a double major in computer science and electrical engineering from UMass Lowell, turned the offer down to follow her own dream: a company called InvisaWear, which sells jewelry that works as discreet alarm systems. Started as a class project during Abdelaziz’s senior year, the Lowell, Mass.-based startup raised over half a million dollars through private investors and said it helped sexual assault survivors find peace of mind. “So many people kept saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re crazy, who turns down Google?’… But here we are, two years later, doing very successful,” said Abdelaziz, an avid moviegoer in her free time. “Listen to your heart and not worry about the reasons that you’re going to fail, but ask more what would happen if you don’t fail.”
2, 3. Joseph Alim (24) and Tuan Ho (23) – Co-founders of ScholarJet.
Alim and Ho are two of the three co-founders at ScholarJet. Ho came to the country with his mother and older brother from Vietnam at the age of 10. When he was accepted into college but was unable to pay for it, he wrote 120 essays to apply for 40 scholarships and eventually won a full ride to go to Northeastern University. Seeing fellow students struggle with similar challenges, he started ScholarJet, a Public Benefit Corporation, to help undergraduate college students earn money for their education by showcasing their strength and not their ability to write. He is a Priscilla Chan Stride Fellow, loves memes and can perform seven different types of martial arts and often starts off a presentation by doing a backflip.
Alim, originally from Brooklyn, NY met Ho while they were both at Northeastern. Born to immigrant parents from Malaysia and Egypt, he was raised to think that there is no substitute to good education and a great career. After a few corporate stints, the entrepreneurial bug bit Alim and he decided to go all in on ScholarJet. He loves rock climbing, recently picked up tennis and is a workaholic.
4. Erika Anderson (22) – Designer, MIT senior.
Erika Anderson wears her heart on her sleeve—literally. The MIT engineering student collaborated with Cambridge-based Advanced Functional Fabrics of America to create high-tech fabrics that change color in response to the mood of the wearer. “That way, you can have one shirt instead of three or four,” said the varsity softball player. Anderson, currently in her senior year, hopes to score a gig at Boston-based design firm post-graduation.
5. Kyle Bonenfant (17) – Launched a livestock-based landscaping business.
Kyle Bonenfant is very clear about his career choice: He wants to run a farm. And he is not far from his goal, he’s already been working on one for seven years, and is now an unusual entrepreneur. He runs a landscaping business but instead of using lawn mowers, he uses livestock. He brings his herd of sheep and goats and cordoned off by an electric fence, they are let loose to graze around the property. It started as a summer project but is now a full-fledged seasonal business that Bonenfant manages, in addition to school and working on a farm in Concord. But Bonenfant doesn’t mind it at all. “I love being outside and working with animals and I want to learn how to run a farm,” he said. He runs cross country, surfs and wants to study agriculture.
6. Matthew Chun (21) – CEO at Need-A-Knee.
When Matthew Chun is not on the wrestling mat, the mechanical engineering student is grappling with some of the toughest challenges facing amputees in developing nations. Grown out of the MIT D-Lab, Need-A-Knee develops low-cost transfemoral rotators that increase the range-of-motion for above-knee amputees. Chun said the devices can help address the limitations of conventional prosthetics by allowing patients to sit cross-legged, move through tight spaces and even get dressed with ease.
7. Keith Corso (18) – Co-founder of BusRight.
As a senior in high school, Keith Corso noticed his school bus made too many stops. Now, Corso is taking the wheel. The Northeastern sophomore’s new application tracks school buses to optimize transit routes and allows parents to pinpoint their the location of their students. After spending a few weeks helping with disaster relief in Puerto Rico over summer break, Corso said he is working to adapt BusRight to help communities affected by disaster get back on the road.
8. Will Gladstone (14) – Raised $50,000 selling socks.
If you think 14 is too young to have any real influence or impact, you clearly haven’t met Will Gladstone. A school science project based on birds led Gladstone to learn more about an endangered tropical bird, Blue Footed Booby and then take it upon himself to save it. “We reached out to the World Wildlife Fund but they didn’t take it seriously because we were kids,” he said. Gladstone and his younger brother have been selling blue socks (the same shade of blue as the bird) and raising money to donate to the Galapagos Conservancy. They’ve raised a total of $50,000 over three years that has funded a research trip to the islands to study the bird. Every day after getting home from school and finishing up their homework, Will and Matty pack socks in their basement to ship all over the world. “My little brother Matty who is my partner likes to say that he hopes we go out of business because that means we’ve saved the blue-footed booby,” Will said. Next on Will and Matty’s agenda: To save the polar bears.
9. Connor Gross (21) – Co-founder of InnovateEDU.
Connor Gross knows firsthand how large the talent pool in Boston is. In the spring of 2016, the Northeastern student started a student-run organization – known as InnovateEDU, soon to be rebranded as Unify – connecting entrepreneurially-minded students from eight universities in the greater Boston area. Currently, the organization is operating with a 15-student management board and has had over 500 students attend various pitch competitions or workshops in the past 3 semesters. For Gross, being recognized as one of BostInno’s 25 Under 25 innovators is “a very incredible experience, because I know all the talent that Boston has to offer, especially among college students,” he said. As an entrepreneur, Gross is making a name for himself thanks to the numbers of Cardly. During last year, the startup he co-founded in April 2015 sold over 25,000 phone pockets, making an annual revenue of over six figures. Cardly now sells online over 70 phone accessories. A travel lover, Gross (who has two more years of undergrad ahead of him) visited China and South Africa this past summer.
10. Parker Hughes (20) – Co-founder of BRUZD Foods:
Originally called ‘Ugly Apple,’ this Emerson junior’s startup finds beauty in the blemished. BRUZD collects unsightly but still edible fruits and vegetables from a handful of Massachusetts farms and delivers them to customers in Boston and Cambridge for $20 a bag. Hughes said when he is not working or studying, he can be found rock climbing and running.
11. Nathan Hulsey (24) – Founder of Bad Design.
Only a handful of people boast of starting, building and selling a company by the age of 24, and Nathan Hulsey is one of them. An Ohio native, Hulsey is a graphic design graduate from Northeastern. His company, Bad Design that he founded 1.5 years ago was recently acquired by Newburyport, Mass.-based firm Rocket Insights, which has offices in Boston and New York City. “It wasn’t even on the long list of things I thought I’d be doing,” he said. Hulsey now divides his time between Boston and New York and when he’s not working, he loves hiking, snowboarding and going to concerts. On his bucket list: Run a big ad agency.
12. Moiz Imam (23) – Co-founder of Umbulizer.
Working with team of local students, Moiz Imam helped develop a low-cost medical ventilator after seeing how resource constrained settings can lead to patient fatalities. The Umbulizer team secured a $15,000 prize for their work at the IDEAS Global Challenge, and are in the process of proposing the device for hospital use. Don’t worry, Imam finds time for fun too — the MIT grad said he enjoys travelling, tennis and cricket on his off-days.
13. Duncan Jurayj (16) – Built a compact house that can fit in the driveway.
Would you painstakingly build something for months on end just to give it away? Duncan Jurayj would. This sixteen-year-old teen from Brookline spent 40 hours a week for five months building a compact house that can fit in the driveway. “I found the design challenge to be quite appealing,” said Jurayj, who won a $5,000 grant from Beaver Country Day School to build this project. The 84-square-foot tiny home will have a kitchen, small living space, a bathroom and a lofted bed. There will be some shelves and cabinets for storage, only be big enough for bare essentials. Jurayj likes board sports and thinks shipping container and modular houses are cool.
14. Chris Kuang (20) – Co-founder and executive director of Coding it Forward.
Chris Kuang is a technologist set on finding a purpose beyond the next big food-delivery application. In 2017, the Harvard student teamed up with peers to launch Coding it Forward, a non-profit that seeks to empower computer science, data science, and design students to find careers that serve the public good. Shortly after, the group launched the Civic Digital Fellowship, a summer program for technology students who want to work with federal agencies.
15. Rajathurai Nagarajah (23) – Business development manager at TankUtility.
Nagarajah is a business development manager at TankUtility. Starting out as an hourly intern, Nagarajah was promoted to the company’s first business development role and broke the company’s record for most sales in a quarter, achieving 390% of quota. His boss Aaron Gress describes him as “empathetic and collaborative as he is tenacious.” Nagarajah grew up in Roxbury and was a METCO student, a state-funded grant program that promotes diversity and educational opportunity for more than 3,300 Boston and Springfield school students. He loves traveling to remote places, going to concerts and Dave Matthews Band.
16. Benjamin Pleat (23) – CEO and founder at Doorbell.
As a junior at Harvard in 2016, Benjamin “Ben” Pleat had an idea for a software service that lets building residents and property managers connect and engage with each other as a community. Now, that idea is a startup called Doorbell. Originally bootstrapped, the Downtown Crossing-based, 15-people company closed a “small seed round,” Pleat said, three months ago. Its software is currently in use in more than 3,000 apartments in the greater Boston area, including Worcester. A native New Yorker, Pleat enjoys exploring Boston in his free time.
17. Ishaan Prasad (18) – Developer of SMART Cancer Navigator.
A freshman at Harvard College, Ishaan Prasad is one of the developers of SMART Cancer Navigator, a web application developed to help oncologists fight cancer now in its testing phase at Boston Children’s Hospital. He and his co-founder, Makiah Bennett, developed the app in around one year and half while working as high school student researchers at the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Cybernetics Laboratory. Following its development, they open-sourced SMART Cancer Navigator and published the work in one of the leading journals for clinical oncology. Born and raised in Mass., Prasad, who has a twin brother, said he hopes to focus on computer science and linguistic while at Harvard. Currently, he’s working on an app that can teach hindi as a second language to children age 4-12.
18. Rizel-Bobb Semple (23) – Software engineering intern at Veson Nautical.
The thing that makes Rizel-Bobb Semple most proud of herself is being able to work as a software engineering with no formal degree, she said. As a DACA recipient, she was brought to the U.S. illegally as a kid. In Boston, she attended classes at Bunker Hill Community College and honed her skills as a developer thanks to Resilient Coders, the Boston-based nonprofit organization that trains people of color from low-income communities for careers in coding. With internships at HubSpot and Formlabs under her belt, Rizel-Bobb Semple is now interning at Veson Nautical. Recently, she started attending computer science classes at BU with the goal of becoming a senior software engineer. In her free time, she’s developing a workout app that connects trainers and watchers at affordable rates. “I want to… show other people that black people can code,” she said.
19. Mara-Florina Steiu (21) – Co-Founder at ignitED.
Born in Romania’s historic region of Transylvania, Mara-Florina Steiu was accepted to 11 top international universities with scholarships (Bocconi University, University of Warwick, University of Richmond, ESADE Spain, University of Bath). Her venture, IgnitED, is an educational platform in which high school students receive mentoring and support throughout the college application process from certified mentors currently studying some of the world’s best universities. So far, IgnitED has gone through the Babson College Summer Venture Program 2018 and has been selected as one of the companies in Y Combinator’s Startup School Advisory Track. Steiu told BostInno that for her, entrepreneurship is the most direct way to find solutions to all the problems (especially in the edtech space) she sees around herself.
20. Derek Tu (21) – Co-founder at Womentum.
Derek Tu is the driving force behind donor acquisition and website design of Womentum, an online crowdfunding platform founded in 2015 that allows anyone to donate to women entrepreneurs in developing countries. The platform, which has now supported over 50 women entrepreneurs in eight different countries, raised over $30,000 in capital and won Princeton University’s Business Today Pitch Competition. More? As its president, Tu helped rebuild e-Tower, the student-run entrepreneurship living community at Babson College. Also, he was a student partner with Rough Draft Ventures, General Catalyst’s student-focused program that backs founders at the university level, for almost three years. He’s now at Wayfair.
21. Eagle Wu (21) – Babson student.
The journey that started with developing an Iron Man-inspired game led Eagle Wu to win a contract with the US Army’s R&D command for VR training at the age of 20. At Babson, Wu studies entrepreneurship, tech and design. Currently on a leave of absence, Wu spends most of his waking hours playing virtual reality games, for both research and fun as he builds a VR training tool for the utility sector like training people to install solar panels. He’s also working with economics professors at colleges to develop a game aimed at teaching market dynamics in classrooms.
22. Jenny Xu (21) – Lead game developer at JCSoft Inc.
When Jenny Xu was twelve years old she spent hours tinkering with stop-start motion games to stump adult gamers. At 21, her games have accrued over 3.5 million downloads. The MIT senior is the lead game developer at JCSoft Inc., a platform for story-based mobile games. “All games are laced with some sort of meaningful content,” Xu said. The avid gamer is currently working on experimental action projects and games that teach empathy through storytelling.
23. Regina Ye (20) – Founder of ZIRUI.
After taking an entrepreneurship class in her junior year at Mount Holyoke College, computer scientist Regina Ye came up with the design of the ZIRUI GO Case, a pocket beauty case that locks liquids like shampoo and conditioner. After raising $20,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, in May 2018 Ye moved to Boston to work full-time on her startup, which has a team of three and is now testing new markets like Malaysia, Taiwan and India. A competitive equestrian rider in college, Ye said that making the BostInno’s 25 Under 25 list is a great honor: “Recognizing this age range… will send a really positive signal to people who are in college or early on in their careers and trying to venture out and do something entrepreneurial: This is the best time to do it.”
24, 25. Emily Young (22) and Sade Nabahe (22) – Co-founders of The Okoa Project.
Rural villages in Tanzania have no easy access to hospitals. With motorcycles being the most common mean of transportation, recent MIT graduates in Emily Young and Sade Nabahe invented and designed an ambulance trailer that can be attached to the motorcycle and serve as a mean of transportation for patients. Started as a project in an MIT design class, the two (with Eva Boal) incorporated The Okoa Project last month as a nonprofit. After having visited Tanzania three times for interviews, the team will move to the East African country in October for a 4-month pilot test. FYI: “Okoa” means “to save” in Swahili. The Okoa Project went through the MIT “delta v” accelerator program and raised around $50,000 in total funding through MIT: it was awarded a MIT Public Service Fellowship (January 2017) and a Legatum Seed Grant (Summer 2017) to continue field testing in collaboration with The Olive Branch for Children in Tanzania. In May, the company won $10,000 at the MIT IDEAS global challenge.
BostInno’s Shelby Grebbin contributed to this report.