Meet a 14-year-old who’s coding her future in AI, crypto, telemed, social impact

At any given time, Pranjali Awasthi may be delving into AI research in a college engineering lab, developing a stealth startup in the telemedicine field, or processing online orders for Indian fashions for her social entrepreneurial venture. Is Pranjali an entrepreneurial engineer or an engineering entrepreneur? That’s to be determined: There’s still high school to finish.

Pranjali, who is 14, is in the 11th grade at Doral Academy Charter. With her exceptional scientific and technical mind, she has earned myriad STEM awards in Miami and in her native India.

Her family immigrated to the US about four years ago. Both of her parents were seeking doctorate degrees in their respective fields and they believed Pranjali could get a better education in this country. Pranjali wasted no time learning about what Miami had to offer.

Pranjali would visit the engineering center on Florida International University campus with her mother, who was pursuing a doctorate in public policy. “She would introduce me, but there were a lot of people who are ready to just initiate conversations, and they would give me a look into the cool things their labs were doing,” she said. “What I really picked up from every single conversation with these researchers was that they were all interested in the application of AI to their fields.”

Pranjali’s interest in machine learning and AI grew and she received grant funding from the New York Institute of Technology for the AI research she has been conducting in an FIU engineering lab. That project is wrapping up, and she will be entering it into science fair competitions next year, she said. Now Pranjali already has another exciting research opportunity lined up: She is starting a remote internship at the Schwartz Center for Computational Neuroscience under the Institute of Neural Computation at University of California San Diego.

These days, Pranjali is also building a startup in the telemedicine industry, where websites like WebMD are fueling a hypochondriac epidemic, and was awarded $25K by a venture fund. The details are under wraps, she says.

During the summer, Pranjali participated in Miami Hack Week, which attracted hundreds of mostly adult engineers and designers. Pranjali was assigned to a crypto house, and for her part of her group’s project, she was able to apply her AI skills. “I also got to meet some really cool people. I actually met a YouTuber who I only knew online, so that was super cool,” Pranjali said the Miami Hack Week experience. This past summer, Pranjali was also part of an MIT virtual accelerator for high school students.

Pranjali at Miami Hack Week, where she hacked a crypto project with her group.

Her interest in social entrepreneurship stems from growing up in India, when she would visit her grandfather, a farmer who would also teach the children in his village how to become artisans. Pranjali said the handmade fashions they would make were quite sleek and stylish and she thought they could be sold globally — without middlemen sucking up the profits resulting in pathetic wages for the makers. She recently created Indic Valley, an online marketplace for the artisans’ fashions. Pranjali’s goal “is to help create a sustainable community of artisans by giving the artisans a platform to have authority and agency over their work.”

With some external funding, she assembled an initial group of about 30 artisans her website would feature, structured the company and worked out the shipping process, all of this made more difficult by the pandemic. Indic Valley launched in recent months with a selection of all-natural, handmade wooden bangles, shawls, shoes and sandals made in India’s villages.

Pranjali talks with artisans in her homeland of India about her social entrepreneurial marketplace startup Indic Valley.

Where does Pranjali find the time for her many interests?  “It’s obviously been a lot of work but you have to keep on a schedule and keep motivating yourself,” she said. “I do a satisfactory job, I think.”

Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs and technologists? “Watch, listen, learn and hunt for the most effective solution.”

Pranjali said she is inspired by Peter Drucker’s words of wisdom: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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Nancy Dahlberg