This article first appeared on Crain's New York.
Some teens and tweens see no need to wait until they graduate from college, or even high school, to pursue their grown-up dreams. The third-annual Crain’s list of breakout entrepreneurs, athletes, tech geeks and performing artists includes a couple of enterprising 12-year-olds as well as teenagers managing college studies and corporate endeavors. What all of them have in common is an assist from mom and dad in balancing homework and family obligations with business meetings, financial management and travel.
Akhilesh Khakhar’s quest to help students ace their college entrance exams started with a frightening fall. He was on his way to Brooklyn Technical High School to prepare for a science competition when he slipped on a patch of ice and struck his head on the sidewalk. Even after months of physical therapy, “I would have to stop frequently and take breaks,” he said, recalling the headaches that plagued him after his concussion. When his grades suffered, he decided to study the education process itself. That’s when he hit on the idea of competing against family and friends using questions on flash cards.
“I felt like I had discovered a whole new way of learning,” he said.
When Khakhar’s grades rebounded, he set to work on a mobile app, putting what he had learned to good use for others. In April, two years after his accident, he launched PrepUp—a free app that lets students compete head-to-head with Facebook friends, answering questions designed by professors to tutor kids for the SAT and ACT exams. A featured pick in the Apple app store more than 15 times, PrepUp has logged over 5,500 downloads from users all over the world. Those who master the first thousand questions can purchase more in-app for $20.
Unlike standard test-prep programs, this one is open to everyone and—as Khakhar likes to point out—far less boring. How well does it work? In September Khakhar earned a perfect 36 on his ACT exam.