Shreyas Parab figured he might as well go for it. The Young Sustainable Impact (YSI) Innovation Program has an age requirement of 18-25, meaning he was two years too young.
He could have waited the two years. Instead, the then–high school junior went ahead and applied.
After all, he had won first place in the HORN Program’s 2015 Diamond Challenge with Spell for Success, an app to help prepare for the National Spelling Bee (his Diamond Challenge partner, Sriram Hathwar, had won the National Spelling Bee in 2014; he then helped his younger brother, Jairam Hathwar, win the competition in 2016).
He’s the CEO of Novel Tie, a quirky necktie company that has created ties for the Beau Biden Foundation and Alex’s Lemonade Stand, schools and sports teams. He’s been a TEDx speaker multiple times, and has been named Philadelphia Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I don’t think they noticed [my age] until they accepted me,” Parab said with a laugh. “At that point, I think they were just like, Age doesn’t matter.”
While it’s impressive enough for a 16-year-old to win a spot in a program for college students, Parab, now a senior at Archemere Academy in Claymont, was one of only 25 people selected for the YSI Innovation Program in the world, and one of only three U.S. students selected.
The program consisted of several months of connecting remotely with his team of five, which included students from Myanmar, Pakistan, New Zealand and Namibia, followed by a two-week accelerator in Norway, which took place in August.
While Parab’s team faced cultural differences and language barriers, when it came to deciding on a problem to take on for the project, they all agreed that there was one area that is a challenge for young people, wherever they are: mental health.
“It’s a major issue,” said Parab. “We were from five different countries, and we all noticed the gap in support for young people who have mental health issues that can lead to suicides. A college campus might offer therapy, maybe once a week or once a month, but there’s a lot of time in between.”
Daily in-person mental health checks for all patients isn’t a feasible option for most colleges, but Mynd.ly, the app currently under development by Parab’s YSI Innovation Program group, keeps patients on track by offering 24/7 resources and a support network to connect to. The app also allows therapists set goals and track patient progress.
“We had the opportunity to pitch to investors as part of the program,” Parab said. “With the rapid development timeline, that was a challenge.”
It’s a challenge Parab and his team accepted. Back from Norway and back to school, they continue to work to take Mynd.ly all the way to the finish line.