NASA named an asteroid after Keiana Cave as a result of her science work and discoveries.
NASA named an asteroid after Keiana Cave as a result of her science work and discoveries.

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

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!

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?

3 thoughts 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.

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