Teen Innovators: Starting Them Young

May 22, 2015 1 Min Read


They show that age is just a number and good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere

What do Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Braille and Blaise Pascal have in common? They were all in their teens when they created something that changed the world.

Lately, we have been hearing more stories of very young innovators who were inspired to create patent-worthy ideas for humanity.

At 15, Ann Makosinski, a Filipino-Canadian student, combined peltier tiles, a hollow aluminum tube and a light-emitting diode (LED) to make a human-powered flashlight.

Teen inventor Kenneth Shinozuka, also at 15, invented a low-cost wearable sensor technology for real-time, reliable detection of movements of Alzheimer’s patients which alerted caregivers through smartphone apps.

Sahil Doshi, 14, developed an eco-friendly battery that harnesses carbon dioxide to generate electricity. His prototype, PolluCell, could potentially help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere while being a low-cost alternative for electricity in developing countries.

The list goes on and on. The up-and-rising Generation Zs (roughly those born after 1995) is said to be the generation of innovation. With a recent study showing that 72% of Gen Zs wanting to start their own businesses, the future (if not current) work culture is expected to be infused with creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Parents of this generation, eager to give their children a leg up into a successful future, are already looking into providing their children with all sorts of platforms to equip and empower them.

Aside from support from parents and mentors, what do these young innovators have that we can emulate and use to develop our younger generation?

They have a special cocktail of these five things:

1. Awareness

People who are more aware of their talents, strengths and weaknesses build confidence earlier in life and know how to use it to their best advantage. Young people should be provided with the opportunity to not only explore their interest but to gain various experiences to widen that scope.

2. Motivation

Having a reason for action, desire or need drives a person to achieve greatness. Young people should be surrounded with a healthy support system, and given the right dose of encouragement (not too little, not too much!)

3. Cultivate grit

Discipline and perseverance take time and practice. Some see it as a muscle; the more you work it out, the stronger it gets. Oh, and it CAN get weak and waste away when not exercised enough. One of the best things you can do for a young person is to encourage them to bring tasks or projects to completion. After all, it is about finishing the race!

4. Know things

Knowledge is power. Need we say more? Curiosity is a trait that should be encouraged among young people as well as showing them the right ways of gaining information. Studies by psychologists show that curious people report having a greater sense of meaning in life while less curious people tend to exhibit more hedonistic behaviours.

5. Self-care

Your mental and physical state are your assets, but it doesn’t mean that you should be running around doing stuff all the time. Protect your assets. Take a break. Breathe deeply. Play! Be it an organised or unorganised activity, some indulgence is necessary, if anything, for sanity sake.

Age is not a deterrent to achieving great things in life. These days, young people are more informed than ever. They will have good ideas, the key is to find ways to make these ideas come to fruition.

What did they do in their teens?

History books are full of stories about young innovators whose inventions changed the lives of millions around the world. You may recognise a few of these remarkable individuals:

Blaise Pascal, 19

Invented the mechanical calculator


Educated at home by his father, a successful French tax collector, Blaise Pascal was a child prodigy. While helping his father at work in 1642, he created the adding machine by creating a wooden box that had 16 separate dials and when each dial was turned, additions and subtractions were able to be done quickly. His invention laid the groundwork for the modern day calculator.

Louis Braille, 15

Invented the Braille reading system

Braille reading system

Braille was accidentally blinded as a child while toying with tools in his father’s workshop. He later moved to Paris to attend a school for the visually impaired where he found books that allowed students to use their hands to touch large raised words on its heavy pages. But Braille despaired over the lack of depth in the books and the amount of information kept in such books. In 1824, he presented a better system using raised dots instead and the Braille language has since become the most recognised tactile writing system used by the blind and visually impaired around the world.

Alexander Graham Bell, 18

Invented the telephone

Alexander Bell

“Aleck” as he was fondly known had displayed a natural curiosity as a child and built his first invention at the age of 12 with his best friend, Ben Herdman, for Ben’s father who was a miller. In return, Ben’s father gave both of them a small workshop to run for them to “invent”. At 18, circa 1865, he started to develop a way to transmit speech through the “harmonic telegraph” that transmits a voice message through a single wire to a separately located receiver. He persevered in his experimenting until 1876. That year, while assisted by Thomas A. Watson, he successfully transmitted the first complete sentence:

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

For more Starting Young articles, click here.

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Divya is a former Youth Lead with Leaderonomics. She is excited about finding new ways to help children and youth get off to a right start in life.

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