This is part of our new series "Gen: Change," in partnership with Youth Service America, featuring stories from the 25 most influential and powerful young people in the world. Click here to read more about Luis and his amazing story.
Since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated by the idea of becoming an inventor or innovator. So becoming an entrepreneur was something that I felt really passionate about. It was not only because the idea of owning a business was interesting to me, but also because portraying myself as a risk-taking person that makes changes and innovates to improve our society was appealing to me. The question, however, should not be "How can I benefit from entrepreneurship?" but instead, "How can I improve society by becoming an entrepreneur?" If we see it from the perspective of the well- being of a business, most economists will conclude that the best results come when your decision-making skills not only positively affect your business' revenue, but also your team. If we apply this reasoning to the pursuit of our goals, viewing society as our main ally, we can most likely succeed in anything.
Being from an impoverished country like Honduras made me see the real issues that many third-world countries are suffering from. I am not talking about the scarcity of food or other commodities that inhabitants of these nations may struggle to acquire. Something more important that might be the cause of all these problems is the lack of persistence and the lack of desire in young people to solve problems in a society by reforming or innovating. This is mainly because opportunities for young students rarely exist. In addition to this, careless governments and private entities do not focus on this problem. That frightened me and made me ask myself, how is a society supposed to flourish when the youth is doing nothing to ensure future prosperity ?
The idea of becoming an inventor came back to me as a 14-year-old high school freshman. I supposed that the best way of overcoming barriers was by educating myself in my field of interest. In spite of the scarcity of resources and support in the technological field in my country, I began to teach myself computer science and digital electronics. With the goal of eventually becoming an entrepreneur, I valued the importance of innovating. These ideals made me develop several unique projects using the knowledge I had acquired by studying as an autodidact. As a 16-year-old high school junior, I developed the first video game system ever built in Honduras. I knew I was not only innovating, but serving as an example for people my age.
In pursuit of new horizons, and with hopes of studying at a university in the United States, I moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to finish my senior year of high school. When I met a fellow student who was paraplegic, my perspective on how I should focus my projects changed dramatically. Following some extensive research on how technology could be used to improve the lifestyles of disabled people, I discovered that this technology was not accessible for millions of people around the world. By reading about how the current technology worked, I was determined to improve the way they were developed in order to create an inexpensive solution that would benefit thousands of people with disabilities. I needed to change the way these devices worked to find a way to make them affordable for the sake of humanity. So I decided to start my own eyeball-tracking device project. It would take hundreds of hours of research, coding and troubleshooting to get it working. My persistence and dedication to helping the disabled motivated me to create the first stable version of the project, and by that time, I had invested over $1,000 from my savings. But it was working, and it was cheap.
This is how I came up with the Eyeboard, an inexpensive eye-tracking system with a prototype build that costs less than $300. I knew the great potential that this project had; however, the problem was getting it to the people who needed it. Consequently, I released the code as open source and published the schematics along with a tutorial. I knew I was not only helping those who needed this technology, but also that young people like me were benefitting from this, too. I have received emails from people telling me that they have replicated the Eyeboard with my instructions, either for educational purposes or to give it as a gift to a disabled family member. This is how I know I am successfully contributing at least a little bit towards the advancement of our society. I don't currently own a business. In fact, my parents are struggling to pay half of my education in the U.S. with the help of some small donations I receive from people on the Internet supporting my projects and education. However, I define myself as an entrepreneur. More specifically, I tell people that I am an entrepreneur in philanthropy because I value the importance of helping others. People usually define philanthropy as the act of giving away money to charity; however, it is actually a very broad term. To put it simply, it is the act of "loving humanity." Therefore, any act that expresses this love for humanity can be expressed as a philanthropic act. I have learned that by innovating and stimulating the development of society at the same time, the best result will always come if you work as an entrepreneur for the sake of philanthropy.
If you think about it, it makes sense that the most-needed project you do is the one that is most successful. If you can solve a problem for many people by innovating, you are definitely going to succeed in whatever field you are in. My objective is not only to help people with my projects, but also to encourage young people around the world to develop a particular interest in innovating to solve problems of our society to make this a better world. Finally, my fellow reader, I leave you with a question: Would you rather succeed in your goals, or help society? What if you could choose both?