BY REBECCA ISENHART
When Darius Irani first started his five-week, four-college-credit course on entrepreneurship at Babson College in Massachusetts, he knew next to nothing about business.
A few days after returning from the crash course in starting socially conscious business ventures, he was spitting out facts about LLC’s and triple-bottom-lines at the bewildering pace of an auctioneer who’s about to miss a flight.
This will surprise no one who knows Irani, a super-sharp rising senior who pops up everywhere: volunteering at MiSci, giving demonstrations with the robotics club, lobbying the Board of Education for greater transparency. His primary interests are in engineering and technology, but he believes a solid business education can make the skills he already has more useful in the long term.
“I have ideas and I want to learn how to bring them to fruition,” Irani said.
Lots of people want to develop their ideas, but not every soon-to-be high school senior would choose to spend five weeks of summer enthusiastically giving presentations in exchange for criticism. Perhaps they should, though; Irani said he made fascinating friends that could have been found only in an intensive program such as the one he attended.
There were 96 students at the entrepreneurship boot camp, and 45 percent were from outside the United States. They came from 22 countries, from Cameroon to South Africa.
“All the students are still talking a bit,” especially through social media platforms like Facebook, he said. He’s still working on one project he started alongside three other classmates: Raahill Reddy, who traveled from Bangalore in India, Alex Burns, and Mia Chao.
The program was open only to high school students of an exceptional caliber. For example, Reddy is already the CEO of a startup in India. The foursome worked together to craft a final project that they presented to their professors, Fortune 500 CEOs and investors, all of whom provided feedback.
The group’s final project, called Deliver More, runs along the lines of sharing services like Uber, where people taxi one another, and AirBnB, where people rent out their homes on a short-term basis. Irani’s app will seek to connect commuters with consumers who need packages delivered on a same-day basis.
For example, commuters might enter their driving schedules into an app, and consumers would similarly enter the time and place they needed a package delivered. Deliver More would facilitate a connection between the two, then handle payment processing.
“We coined the term ‘package-share,’ ” Irani said. “It’s just normal people delivering to normal people.”
He knows that much larger corporations are already prepared to fulfill people’s delivery needs, so he said the company they imagined had to improve on the concept. He said same-day delivery under a “package-share” model would be cheaper and more reliable.
“Our value proposition was: We’re quick, we’re affordable, we’re safe,” he said.
The four high school students are still, even internationally, working together on the project. Irani said the foundation they laid for Deliver More was impressive. “I was amazed at how much we were able to accomplish,” he said.
It’s especially astonishing considering this was the third project in five weeks that the students worked on.
The first was an idea-generation exercise, where Irani came up with the concept for a backpack that wirelessly monitors posture and warns the wearer about potential back injury.
The second was a challenge where students had to conceptualize a way to create socially and environmentally responsible clothing.
That second project was the part of the experience where Irani learned the largest amount of surprising information. In fact, he said the things he learned changed the way he thinks about consuming.
“It proved to be much more difficult than it seemed at first,” he said.
He and his classmates had decided to create an environmentally and socially responsible sandal, which he initially thought would be no tougher than making sure materials were recyclable and employees were fairly paid. They quickly encountered some real-world roadblocks.
For one, Irani learned that consumers are in the habit of purchasing the cheapest option available. A socially responsible item that is expensive won’t have much impact because few will buy it.
He also discovered that examining the employment practices and working conditions of every step in the supply chain is nearly impossible, especially in the garment industry, where there are innumerable bonded workers locked in near slavery.
For example, even if working conditions are excellent in the factory where workers sew the clothing, it’s possible the people who dyed it somewhere else had few rights.
“It’s a much more complex problem than it seems,” he said. He added that in his human rights classes at Babson, which were an integral part of the entrepreneurship course, he became more interested in personal activism.
“A lot of people think, ‘Just me doing something won’t make much of a difference,’ ” he said. “There are movements, and they do work. It really just takes a consumer push.”
Even after several weeks of intensive, college-level learning, Irani seemed energized as ever and ready to charge through his final year at Niskayuna High School. He’ll continue to focus on science and engineering this coming year, but expects to double-major or minor in business when he moves on to college.
“It’s one thing to have ideas. Business skills allow you to bring [them] to fruition,” he said. “That’s what attracted me to entrepreneurship in the first place.”