Indian-American teens launch tech tool to save lives

Indian-American teens launch tech tool to save lives

By Ritu Jha-

A group of North Carolina teens have turned their grief over losing a friend to drunk driving into a high-tech tool they hope will prevent such tragedies.

The four friends from Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh unveiled their concept for SoberRide at the TYE Globals Pitch Competition 2024 on June 21, in Silicon Valley, where it won several awards.

The concept: Imagine getting behind the wheel tipsy, shame on you, and your car rightfully “refuses” to let you drive if its advanced facial recognition and AI-powered sensors determine you’ve been drinking.

TYE Globals is the annual flagship event for the Youth Entrepreneurship Division of TiE where companies pitch their ideas for an opportunity to earn seed funding in Silicon Valley. TiE runs a 10-week boot camp and teaches high school students skills in business and start-up concepts, with competitions leading up to TYE Globals.

Looking sharp and confident in their suits, the team recently agreed to chat with indica.

“My expectation of participating in TYE Globals and visiting Silicon Valley was to draw inspiration,” said Chief Product Officer, Aditya Bharadwaj. “We see these huge tech giants leading the frontier of research and impacting everyone’s lives, becoming household names. I want to take inspiration from that and apply that to my own life and my product. That’s what I came here for.”

SoberRide was TYE Global’s second runner-up and was also crowned with multiple other awards such as the best business model. The awards and recognition have given a shot of confidence to budding entrepreneurs.

CEO Swayam Shah, 15, said he and his friends were in eighth grade when their friend, Jonathan Pooley, was killed. When they enrolled in TYE’s program last year, they decided to build a software tool and established SoberRide.

The team sounded a little somber for not winning the TYE Global competition but remained determined to take the product forward globally.

Asked about their next move, Shah said they’re lobbying for legislation mandating anti-drunk systems in vehicles. He stated that they have already been in contact with legislators to turn this into a reality. That will give the company enormous potential.

“We strongly believe in the mission of saving lives, which is why we will continue with this company. So far, we’ve raised over $3,000 in seed funding from our TYE journey, which we are going to invest right back in the company,” Shah said.

CFO Krithin Visvesh was closest to the friend who was killed in the drunk driving crash when they were younger.

“I realized that drunk driving is a huge issue, and that incident prompted me to think of a solution to this issue,” Visvesh said. “Drunk driving takes thousands of lives every single year. We all felt that something needed to be done about this, so Swayam and I formed a team. Jonathan Pooley was our main inspiration.”

Visvesh said that while they highlighted their product at TYE Globals, that was only the beginning of their promotional and development plans. There was also a recent drunk driving crash in Pune, India, where two IT professionals died in a crash caused by a 17-year-old drunk driver.

“So, this is not just in our local neighborhood,” he said. “This is happening globally. And that’s why we chose drunk driving as a problem to solve.”

Not willing to leave anything to chance, the team has also taken the initiative to push for legislation mandating such products in vehicles to prevent drivers from driving inebriated. They’ve spoken to their congressional representative, Deborah Ross, and officials at the Department of Transportation.

Bharadwaj, the chief product officer, said the team met with all of these legislators and they concluded the product fits the criteria of what they’re looking for.

“This proposed bill is bipartisan, meaning changes in politics won’t alter the course of the bill. We are gaining more support, as more people are supporting these devices being mandated in vehicles. That’s where our product comes in. A market is being created by this proposed legislation. We’re going to use the legislation as leverage to penetrate the market and reach our goal.”

Capital will be needed to turn the dream into reality, however. CFO Visvesh says this is a “passion project” that the team plans to continue pursuing as capital becomes available.

“It’s a cause that we believe in. For funding, I think we’re looking at any help and guidance from mentors, startup organizations and companies. But what we want to start with and what we asked for is $25,000. That much is required to get our company started and get it off the ground. We’re going to use this fund to pilot and get our product in vehicles, ” says CEO Shah.

Even if the product ultimately goes nowhere, Chief Marketing Officer Bhavik Kanumuri, 16, said that being part of TYE has been a learning experience for them.

“I’ve learned how to make business models, find target market estimates and develop market strategies. That’s my role as the CMO of this company, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. TYE has given us the confidence that we need to make our project a real thing.”

Kanumuri said the team didn’t know the first thing about starting a business before joining TYE last year.

“But the program taught us everything that we need to know. That includes business model, finance, marketing, and everything else that we need to successfully launch our business. That’s why we were at the TYE Global competition.”

Kanumuri said the team’s next step is to get the software tested in vehicles.

CEO Shah says, “We’ve just been developing the prototype, but we haven’t had the opportunity to put it into a vehicle yet, as the integration process with the vehicle is extremely complicated. Our next step is to work with an OEM and start practicing or prototyping how this will fit inside the vehicle so that it can prevent the vehicle from turning on if alcohol is detected in the driver.”

Kanumuri said all four plan to go to college and study hard skills like computer science and engineering. They believe those skills will prepare them for successful entrepreneurship careers.

“As one of the speakers at TYE Globals said, anyone with an engineering degree or computer science degree can fulfill the roles of someone with a marketing or business degree. However, someone with a business or marketing degree cannot fulfill the roles of someone with a computer science or engineering degree, ” Kanumuri concludes.

These teenagers have done an incredible job of identifying a pain point in the community and building a solution around it. They hope to continue their success and end drunk driving once and for all, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives every single year.

[Photo courtesy: Indica : (From L to R) Aaditya Bharadwaj, Krithin Visvesh, Swayam Shah, Bhavik Kanumuri.]