5 startup secrets from a teenage entrepreneur

Let’s say you’ve found a field that fascinates you. You’ve taken challenging classes, met great mentors and had amazing internships. So you should submit your resume for an entry-level position, right? Well, that can be a great way to start. But how about being the CEO?

I have been involved with robotics for eight years and always knew that I loved working in technology. Recently, I had a fantastic summer engineering internship in a very cool segment of the robotics industry: soft robotics. I learned that soft squishy robots can be much better than hard metal robots at doing certain things, like picking up an egg! However, because the industry is so new, it was hard to gather all the parts needed to conduct our experiments. So I started a company to make starter kits for soft robotics researchers like me.

Though I still have a lot to learn about the technology industry, here’s a few tips that have helped me in the process of launching my own startup.

1. Find your passion

When I was 11, I really wanted a fish, but my mother said it was too much work. I asked her incessantly, until she jokingly said that if I could build a robot to feed it, I could have one. She assumed I would try for weeks and give up. I built it in 30 minutes.

Clearly, my after-school LEGO robotics class had paid off. Not only did I convince my mother to get my first pet, but I had actually found my passion at a young age. For the next several years, I continued to take every possible class—after school and over the summers—in physics, engineering, and computer science to learn how to build more and more complex robots.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel

In rapid-growth industries, there is always a need for new ideas. For example, in my field of soft robotics, a lot of research has been done in making the soft, squishy part of the robot, but the control systems that help these robots move have been largely undeveloped. Harvard University had already designed some free, open source systems specifically for soft robotics, so, by building my product off of that technology, I was able to get it to market very quickly. I am fortunate to have incredible mentors at both Cornell University, who gave me in-depth technical training, and at Harvard University, who developed the open source technology my company is based on.

3. Under-promise, over-deliver

When my company was in the process of designing our consumer website, we were not expecting any orders. However, we unexpectedly received an urgent order request via email a few weeks before our planned launch. Though my first instinct was to say, “Sorry, no,” I realized that we did have the ability to ship our first consumer order, if we hustled. We scrambled for 24 hours, packed out the order and shipped it out in only two days, one day earlier than promised. Now, instead of having a disappointed customer who was not able to get the product he wanted, I have a very happy first customer! If you are launching a tech company, focus on going above and beyond to exceed your customers’ expectations.

4. Teach the next generation of leaders

Organizations like Girls Who Code and FIRST Robotics are wonderful platforms to inspire the next generation of computer scientists and engineers. As a volunteer for Black Girls Code, I have had the privilege of seeing girls as young as five become empowered as young coders. I cannot wait to work with all of these amazing young engineers many years down the line as we tackle some of the world’s biggest issues using the engineering skills we’ve learned together.

5. Don’t go it alone!

Resources for makers and entrepreneurs have sprouted up all over the country. I joined Hack Manhattan, a public makerspace in New York City, which offers an incredible community of supportive engineers and makers. TechShop, which is sort of a playground for engineers and entrepreneurs, has eight locations that have an amazing array of machinery and classes. With resources like this, you don’t need a million bucks to make your million dollar idea a reality.

The bottom line: Find something that makes you happy, dive in headfirst and work as hard as you can to be the best in that field.

Simone Braunstein is the CEO and founder of Stone Brook Robotics, LLC, a start-up distributor and manufacturer of electropneumatic control boards for robotic systems. She won the Second Award in Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She is also the Founder of the Soft Robotics Technology Group Meetup in New York City. When not building robots, Simone is training for a triathlon or playing with her two enormous dogs in Central Park.

(Image via Simone Braunstein.)