The 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list recognized 54 Stanford affiliates — more than from any other university — for outstanding entrepreneurial accomplishments in a variety of industries.
Stanford honorees included Dhruvik Parikh ’22, who developed a cheap alternative to costly membranes in redox flow batteries, as well as Vivian Shen ’14 and Ruby Lee ’13, who co-founded an ed-tech startup called Juni Learning. They joined Stanford students and alumni from disciplines including computer science, biotech and energy.
Parikh, the youngest Stanford honoree on the Forbes list, was recognized for his award-winning work exploring ways to efficiently store energy in batteries so that, for example, solar power might power cities at night. He worked to improve the efficiency of vanadium redox flow batteries, a type of rechargeable battery often used in grid energy storage. His research focused on improving the performance and cost effectiveness of the battery’s membrane, which allows the positive and negative ions to flow through the circuit without mixing together.
“What I was trying to do was to target one specific part of the battery that was very expensive and develop a cheaper version and hopefully raise efficiency,” he said.
Parikh’s interest in renewable energy began in grade school. When Parikh was in high school, he researched biofuels, intrigued by the idea of contributing to a closed loop energy economy — a theoretical energy system for a society that recaptures all the energy used so that none is wasted. He completed his membrane research in high school but hopes to continue working on energy science in college while perhaps studying computer science.
In addition to using his newfound platform to advocate for sustainability policy, such as the state of Washington’s ill-fated 2018 carbon tax ballot initiative, Parikh hopes to pursue interdisciplinary studies that expand beyond sustainability.
“I’m really interested in the intersection of computer science and the natural sciences, going from a computational perspective and tackling big science problems,” he said.
Stanford’s Forbes honorees are largely concentrated in computer science. Some, like Shen and Lee, wish to share that their passion for computer science with others.
After meeting at Stanford through a shared friend and common interests in entrepreneurship, Shen and Lee launched Juni Learning, which provides an online program for students at top universities to earn money by instructing grade-school children in computer science over video chat.
In part inspired by a similar English learning program in China called VIPkid, Shen and Lee found a receptive audience for private coding education among parents seeking to go beyond the CS pedagogy offered in traditional K-12 classrooms. The platform made almost immediate profits.
“[Coding education is] a very blue sky sort of space,” Shen said. “Anything that gets kids exposed to coding is really good, and we like to help kids who’ve been exposed to CS to really pursue it.”
Part of Juni’s success as an educational company has been its emphasis on closing the persistent gender gap among engineers. The female-founded platform has made strides in attracting young women as instructors and girls as students, matching female instructors with female learners and achieving gender parity on both sides of the chat.
“There is a certain care we emphasize in monitoring every student’s progress, and something that has been really important has been having a female student paired with a strong female instructor who is technical and can serve as a role model,” Lee said.
Future priorities for Juni Learning include building out the current program by improving the educational software, recruiting more instructors at universities and expanding offerings to reach students outside metropolitan areas and from diverse backgrounds.
Contact Cooper Veit at cveit ‘at’ stanford.edu.