One day in the near future, firefighters might be aided by a drone that reaches a fire before they can even get their gear on.
En route, first responders would receive data through special sensors about GPS location, traffic conditions and the location of hot spots and people in the structure.
“Whenever someone calls 911, there’s about a 70 percent chance that the information they give will be incorrect,” said Divyaditya “Divy” Shrivastava, chief executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Area startup company developing the product.
Crucial minutes and perhaps lives could be saved because of this innovation by Shrivastava, a 2016 Olentangy High School graduate, and his company’s co-founder, Trevor Pennypacker, originally from Massachusetts.
This past spring, Shrivastava, who grew up in New Albany and Lewis Center, was awarded a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship to forgo a college degree (for now) and work solely on his company, the name and details of which are under wraps.
Twenty to 30 applicants worldwide are chosen annually for the fellowship, started in 2011 by billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
As the organization’s website says: “Pursue ideas that matter instead of mandatory tests. Take on big risks instead of big debt. How you spend your two years in the Fellowship is up to you – we’re here to help, but we won’t get in the way.”
The organization provides funding, guidance and other resources over two years to entrepreneurs younger than 23 who have a big idea and the wherewithal to carry it out. The organization says past fellows have created nonprofit groups, consumer products and media companies.
Shrivastava already had dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley, before the spring semester to focus on the company.
“I was learning more from my company than from school,” Shrivastava said. “This just felt really time-sensitive.”
So he and Pennypacker, a former University of Pennsylvania student majoring in physics and electrical engineering, are rooming together in Mountain View, California, to give their total attention to the product launch, which they hope will be in mid-August. They’re working with a few Bay-area fire departments to fine-tune it.
Shrivastava said he was glad his parents, Randhir and Disha Shrivastava, who still live in Lewis Center, never gave him a flat-out “no” about dropping out of college for now. They simply asked him to think it through completely.
“To them, a college degree is freedom,” Shrivastava said of his parents, who both hold advanced degrees.
Disha Shrivastava said she’s extremely proud.
“Sometimes you cannot give 100 percent to both things,” she said.
She and her husband realized that their son could always go back to Berkeley in a few years.
“We decided, let him go. Let him do,” she said. “He is doing good things.”
His mother bragged about him, as moms do: When he was 6 1/2, she said, he made an automatic toothbrush out of Legos, and it worked. He got a perfect 36 on the ACT.
When he was 16, he told her, “Mom, I want to do something big, something for society,” she said.
Even knowing people are watching out for him, she still worries, as moms do.
“He’s working very hard, 15 hours (a day). ... When we’re talking, I’m asking about what he’s eating, when did he sleep, did you clean your clothes?”
Shrivastava credits Pennypacker for being disciplined about managing time, self-care and warding off burnout.
And they do have money to live. Without revealing many details, he said, the company raised funding from a few sources outside the fellowship.
Shrivastava has been so busy, however, that when asked his age, he had to think for a minute.
“Nineteen ... I think I just turned 19. Yeah, that’s right,” he said.
Jatin Singh, who now works for the Dublin-based business innovation company JASStek, supervised Shrivastava as a summer intern at IBM Sales in 2015. The 16-year-old was asked to use IBM’s Watson Analytics big-data software to figure out from customers’ histories whether a sale was probable.
“I think that is when he got his first exposure to data analytics,” Singh said. “He could see what data can do. He was very excited.”
They still get together for lunch when Shrivastava is in town to brainstorm about market approaches.
Singh called Shrivastava creative, respectful of others, humble and skilled at problem-solving.
“He has a business kind of mindset,” Singh said. “That’s what I think Berkeley recognized in him. That was what set him apart from other kids.”