Women Talk Tech Episode 55: From Zero to Startup
In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Women Talk Tech is dedicating the month of March to saluting young women in the tech sector.
This week’s guest is Riya Karumanchi, a 17-year-old high school student from Burlington, Ontario. Riya is an entrepreneur and CEO of SmartCane and is extremely passionate about harnessing technology to better people’s lives. She is an Innovator at The Knowledge Society, an avid ML developer & is recognized as one of the Top 20 Teen Entrepreneurs Worldwide. Riya is also very honored to be on Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” and to be featured on Time Magazine’s list for young inventors changing the world.
Riya began her professional exploration into the technology sector after being presented with a problem: her friend’s visually impaired grandmother was using a cane which did not aid her in detecting and navigating around objects above ground level. She was getting injured as a result. Riya began developing the product behind her company SmartCane, which focuses on harnessing technology to better people’s lives.
Riya faced many challenges while pitching her idea to large groups of people at conventions. At the time, Riya was 14 years old and was often pitching to people who were at least a decade older than her, in addition to having professional experience within the tech sector. While it was an intimidating feat, Riya overcame the obstacle of age through perseverance.
“I thought that, if the first 6 people weren’t interested, what if I gave up then and the 7th person said yes. So, I think that’s what kept me going. What I was able to do to get that 7th person to say yes and join my team, was really demonstrating my passion. I really wanted to take this idea from a project and make it a reality, and I think that passion shone through and inspired other people.”
In speaking with mentors older than her, Riya has worked to challenge the Imposter Syndrome faced by so many women in the tech sector, of all generations. Riya is a strong believer that with passion and drive, a person at any age can be an innovator.
“I don’t think age is a determinant factor as to whether you can succeed or not. I think it’s your willingness to put in the work, embrace continuously learning, and also fail. And learning from your failure is really important.”
Riya has observed that young women and girls are not as engaged in the tech sector as they could be. In reflecting on the people in her own life, Riya recognizes that of the people she knows who are interested in careers in engineering, none of them are women. She believes that this divide starts young. Often children determine their initial interests in early education, where their exposure to representations of who works in tech and what tech is, comes from movies or books. Often, technology courses are not offered until the later years of high school, and according to Riya, that is far too late.
For Riya, computer science courses do not come early enough. The biases based on what young people see in the media are already set in place by the time students reach high school. From Riya’s experience, a lot of boys have already engaged in technology through clubs or extracurriculars centered around topics such as robotics, therefore, when computer science courses become available in high school, young women already feel like they are behind.
Through her work with SmartCane and the Knowledge Society, Riya is demonstrating that technology innovation knows no bounds when it comes to age, and she hopes to communicate this to other young women seeking to get involved in the field of technology.
You can find Riya on LinkedIn
Follow Riya on Instagram @riyakarumanchi