How this Young Australian of the Year finalist is activating “wildly innovative ideas”

Taj Pabari

Taj Pabari. Source: Supplied

This week, remarkable young people around the country were celebrated in the Australian of the Year awards.

One of them was Indian-born teenager Taj Pabari, Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year and finalist for the national Young Australian of the Year award.

Pabari, aged 17, began his venture into tech entrepreneurship at the tender age of 11 and just a few years later, he founded Fiftysix, a three-year-old venture that makes build-it-yourself tablets and coding kits for children.

Aiming to bring world-class education in computer science, entrepreneurship and creativity to 1 million kids by 2020, Pabari and his core team of about 15 are actively working to expand the business globally.

“We’re all very, very young,” Pabari tells StartupSmart.

With bases in both Brisbane and San Francisco, Fiftysix already services students across Australia, including in remote towns, as well as in North America, Kenya, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

To date, the team has reached 45,000 children from private schools and disadvantaged communities.

“We’re just making a push in to Saudi Arabia,” says Pabari.

Breaking the rules to be a tech entrepreneur

Pabari admits that playing by the rules was never his strong suit.

Inspired by the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, he too wants to change the world with technology—and the traditional route from classroom, to university, to graduate job and a corporate ladder was not going to get him there.

Pabari says he would stay up till the early hours of the morning to listen to online keynotes by these global pioneers.

“By the time I hit grade six, I had three suspensions to my name, I was not the best kid,” he says.

“I was disinterested by the education system … but I was intrigued by technology.

“I started my first business at 11, which was a tech blog for kids, by kids.”

At its peak, Pabari says the site was getting about 100,000 hits and $10 in Google AdSense each day—and from that point, he was smitten with the idea of being an entrepreneur.

But at the age of 13, he attended a Tony Robbins seminar and came to the realisation that he needed to do more to make a real world impact. The idea for FiftySix was born.

Wanting to empower disengaged students around the world, Pabari visited Nepal to explore how he could do this.

“The numbers fifty six in numerology mean opportunity,” says Pabari.

“We wanted to give young people all around the world, the opportunity to create technology not just use and consume it.”

Changing the stats on diversity in tech

Considering the global challenge of gender diversity in tech, Pabari says the FiftySix team is making an active effort to change the statistics, both internally and externally.

“At the start of 2016 we were an all male company. We kind of recognised that there are too many alpha males in the business,” he says.

But the business has kicked off 2017 with 60% of its facilitators being women, Pabari says, and is aiming to serve a target market that’s at least 50-50 girls and boys.

Activating “wildly innovative” young minds

Recently, Pabari watched a reluctant six-year-old schoolgirl, who initially “couldn’t think of anything worse” than attending a FiftySix tech workshop, walk up on stage with an idea for a $90 robot that enters the brain through the nose and detects tumours.

He says she even researched parts for the robot on Alibaba and priced it to make it affordable for everyone because she wanted to stop brain tumours taking more lives.

The girl had a relative with a brain tumour, he says.

“She presented the idea on stage and ended up winning the event,” Pabari says.

With workshops running across Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne and in remote parts of Australia, Pabari says FiftySix is activating “wildly innovative ideas” that will help shape Australia’s future economy.

“We need to make sure that we are exposing young people to enterprising skills and soft skills as well,” he says.

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