I'm a 16-year-old AI founder. People look down on me – literally and figuratively, but I've already raised $450,000.
- Pranjali Awasthi, 16, came up with her startup while interning in university research labs.
- She was accepted to the September 2021 HF0 residency where she launched her product.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Pranjali Awasthi, a 16-year-old AI founder. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
My dad is an engineer who believes computer science is a course that should be taught alongside other core programs in schools. His passion and values encouraged me to get into coding when I was seven.
When I moved to Florida with my family at age 11 from India, my curiosity thrived as I could take computer science classes and do competitive math.
Interning in university research labs gave me the idea for my company
When I was 13, I started interning in university research labs at Florida Internal University working on machine learning projects alongside going to high school. Because of the pandemic, my high school had gone virtual, so I was able to intern for about 20 hours a week.
My tasks included doing searches, extracting data, and creating literature reviews. In 2020, OpenAI released its ChatGPT-3 beta, and I knew we could use it to make extracting and summarizing research data easier.
As a research intern, I was hyper-aware of how hard it was getting to find exactly what you needed on search engines. I began thinking about how AI could solve this problem. That was the seed for my company, Delv.AI.
Delv.AI wasn't a fully formed idea yet, but I knew I wanted start a company using machine learning to extract data and eliminate data silos.
I landed a spot on an accelerator for AI startups
In 2021, I went to a Miami Hack Week where I met Lucy Guo and Dave Fontenot, partners at Backend Capital. They also founded HF0 residency – a live-in startup accelerator in San Francisco and Miami.
I was accepted into their September 12-week cohort in exchange for a small piece of my future company. My parents told me I should take the opportunity – the network alone would be worth it, so I took an absence from high school.
The residency paid for me to commute back and forth to the house via Uber every day.
I launched the beta for Delv.AI on Product Hunt, a platform for people to share software for free, during the residency on my birthday – I'd just turned 15. It became the number three product of the day.
As more content gets uploaded online, it's getting harder for people to find the right information, especially when that information is very specific. Delv.AI helps researchers leverage AI to find exactly the information they're looking for.
The residency helped me land investment and build my network
My residency at HF0 concluded with an investor-focused demo day in late 2021. After presenting my project, I received my first investment through On Deck and Village Global.
The initial investment in early 2022 was enough to hire my first engineer and work on a minimum viable product.
I formed strong connections in the A.I. community throughout the fellowship. This network was helpful for fundraising in the months following the residency. My success on Product Hunt added to the momentum.
We've raised $450,000 in total from a combination of funds and angels including Lucy Guo and Village Global. We're currently valued at around $12 million.
College is a 'maybe someday' for me, but it's not my priority
My parents are Indian, so academics are a priority for them. I wanted to get a GED, but we compromised on me finishing my high school credits online, which I completed in June 2023. My decision to not go to college is hard for them, but they understand.
I have a lot of responsibility on my plate and passion for what I'm building.
I might consider college down the line to learn business skills like law and psychology, where the in-person format of college could be beneficial.
I run a small and lean team, but I still do much of the work
I start my days with running and prepping for my team's daily huddle. As my team members are older than me, good communication is key, as is knowing when to take the reigns.
As a young founder, I have to be clear in communicating the company's mission and reminding everyone that we need to work together remotely.
After the huddle, I will code and manage my team of engineers. There's a lot of logistical stuff to handle. I'm currently the only person managing HR and operations. We recently hired someone to help with customer service and sales and are hiring overseas engineers.
I power down the day by sending e-mails, taking care of user requests, having dinner, and then sleeping. I also try to fit in time to play an instrument or a game of badminton.
Being a young founder has its fair share of challenges and opportunities
I've found that being young, people are more inclined to help me or answer questions. But when I walk up to people, they sometimes look down at me – literally and figuratively – as they're trying to figure out what I want. I try to have a clear objective and keep conversations rich and stacked with content, which helps.
I try not to take in everything that social media or the news throws at me. I'm not afraid to mute or unfollow people.
We're dealing with a flood of new AI products – the competition is insane. In 2021 in Miami, everyone was talking about crypto. By the end of 2022, that had changed completely to AI.
The market is growing very fast, so the next thing for us is refining our product with user feedback and raising more funding.
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