A True Pioneer

By Stephen Hunt

Siddarth Nandyala is only 13, but the eighth grader at Frisco’s Lawler Middle School has already accomplished much. In 2022, Nandyala started his own business, STEM IT, which sells innovative kits to young students, helping foster interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), coding, and electronics.

To date, STEM IT has sold 254 kits, which are affordable, engaging, and educational ways to prepare students for a successful future in the dynamic world of STEM. “The sky is the limit. We’re trying to create an impact,” he said. “We’re partnering with UNICEF to bring these innovative kits to students around the world. We’re also mentoring underprivileged youth.”

Nandyala has also already earned several awards. In 2023, he finished second in America’s Top Young Entrepreneur at the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Saunders Scholars National Competition and earned the People’s Choice Award after successfully pitching to investors. He’s also earned proclamations from Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney and Texas Governor Greg Abbott and appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“That [finishing second in America’s Top Young Entrepreneur] was the light bulb moment, seeing the impact that can be created through STEM kits such as these. It showed how we could change the realms of STEM around the world to bring these kits to life,” Nandyala said. “That showed me there are people willing to support this cause and this impact I’m trying to create. It was a very heartwarming moment, showing this is something I should continue.”
However, Nandyala isn’t the first entrepreneur in his family. His father, Mahesh, a “serial entrepreneur,” has start-ups in Artificial Intelligence (AI), while his mother, Srilatha, owns a jewelry business. It’s Srilatha who introduced Siddarth to STEM, buying him his first kit at age seven. “My mom showed me how to code. I soon realized not all kits were cost efficient, and the ones that were didn’t have the correct material to understand these concepts,” Siddarth said.

“These kits were copying the instructions. They never allowed me to push my boundaries and create something of my own. I saw that as a problem because it never allowed me to assert my knowledge and go beyond copying instructions. I set out to solve that [problem] using these kits.”

His twin sister Sowmya, 20 minutes older, is also a budding entrepreneur, part of this entrepreneurial-driven family who has always encouraged Siddarth’s efforts – support he’s incredibly grateful for. “My dad, he’s always been helping me, pushing me forward even when there were challenges. He always helped give me motivation to push those boundaries,” Siddarth said. “He always empowered and believed in me. My mom, she started it by giving me that first kit, teaching me about STEM, and introducing me to this field. [My sister] she’s always been a prominent force, helping and motivating me. She’s starting her entrepreneurial journey this year in DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) services because of the long wait times to get DMV appointments. She’s in the YEA program this year and setting out to revolutionize DMV wait times.”

His father is continually astounded by Siddarth’s motivation and accomplishments, speaking like a proud papa when discussing how his son’s accomplishments to date are only the beginning. “I really am astonished and pleasantly surprised by his drive,” Mahesh Nandyala said. “I cherish every moment with my family. It’s been a proud moment and journey.”

When not pursuing entrepreneurial interests or learning AI, Siddarth is an avid chess player ranked among the world’s top players for his age. However, there is one thing his parents desire for him above all others. “There’s a lot on his plate, but he’s still young, so he needs to have vacations and family time,” Mahesh Nandyala said. “He needs to have balance. I don’t want him to get burned out. So far, he’s able to manage things very well. I am excited to see what the future holds.”

In addition to the supportive environment provided at home by his family of fellow entrepreneurs, Siddarth has also benefitted greatly from the strong mentoring he has received since joining Frisco YEA! in October 2022. After developing his first prototype kit in June 2022, Siddarth presented his final version in spring 2023 as part of the Investor Panel Pitch Competition and won over $2,000 for his successful pitch.

Peter Burns is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army and is the program manager for Frisco YEA!, the first chapter in Texas. And Burns remembers realizing there was something different and special about Siddarth very early in their relationship. “With every student, when they come in, we have an ideation phase where they start filling out their idea to tell me whether or not we think it’s an idea we can go forward with,” Burns said.

“We’re trying to see if this person is going to commit to getting it done because we see that it’s going to be very challenging. He was a sixth grader, but he had this lofty idea. We kept pushing him, and he kept responding. He was responding positively and had all the right answers. We said this is going to require a lot of coding and you’re going to need to be able to find someone who’s able to do all that coding for you and get it done within a year. He said, I’ll code it myself. I’ve got three years of experience coding. He said he started coding back when he was in third grade. He’s taught himself.”

Burns quickly realized Siddarth was fully committed to doing whatever it took to make selling his STEM kits a reality, including heeding advice from his mentors and others willing to help accelerate his journey to becoming an entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Under Burns’ guidance, they approached the kits much like Legos, using the logic that giving children a box of Legos allows them to put things together on their own and by using their own processes. “[I told Siddarth] let’s take that same concept and have a way to encourage kids to look at STEM as a career opportunity or as a project just like a Lego. We’ll just give them all the materials they need, the tutorials, and they start teaching themselves and learning,” Burns said. “And as they learn one skill, they get to learn the other and get to master the other. He took the idea, listened to it and then he took off and just ran with it. We started building the kits and broke the kits down into three different stages: a beginner, intermediate, and expert version.”

Seeing that Siddarth already had the technical side of making the kits down, Burns then set out to teach him the required business acumen to successfully make the transition from student to CEO, the goal of YEA! Burns saw him be a sponge during the entire process, someone who enthusiastically absorbed every bit of advice he received and then applied that newfound knowledge to make his kits and himself as effective as possible.

“He has not disappointed at all. My challenge to him every time I see him, I want you to remain humble so you can be coached,” Burns said. “If you remain humble, you’ll always remain coachable. Then, always make sure you listen to your mom because she is a driving force. I’m really excited for him.”

One specific way in which Burns has helped Nandyala is by showing him that failure is only the beginning, not the end through his FAIL acronym (First Attempt In Learning). “[He] showed me that FAIL is just a stepping stone into success,” Siddarth said. “When I first came to YEA!, I looked through multiple prototypes of this prosthetic arm to create the kit. The first one didn’t work. Then, I went toward a voice-controlled model.”

“That was working, but the voice control wasn’t very accurate. Then, I went to a button design, and that started working, but then the button was clicking multiple times even though it wasn’t supposed to. So, through those multiple iterations, it really brought me to understanding with the help of Mr. Burns and YEA!, that failing is just a first attempt in learning and understanding how you can improve and make things better.”

So, what’s next for this talented young Frisco resident? Well, plenty. A finalist for the 2024 National STEM Challenge, Nandyala will learn in early February if he’s a winner, which would mean a trip to Washington, D.C. Later in February, he will spend a week in Tulsa, Oklahoma as one of 50 young entrepreneurs competing in BetaBlox, the planet’s largest competition TV show for startups which airs on Amazon Prime. And in early March, he will be in Austin for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Impact Challenge.

“I want to create a legacy where inventors and innovators can push the boundaries and go beyond their comfort zone, actually changing the world for the better,” Siddarth said. Well, it appears this impressive young man is already well on his way.

Stephen Hunt is a longtime Frisco resident and oft-published freelance writer.

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