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Super Youth at Techonomy: What Drives the Tyle Brothers to Succeed

David Kirkpatrick interviews the Tyle brothers, Sujay (center) and Sheel (right). (photo by Asa Mathat)

How do you raise two sons who will make enough money by age 30 to ensure you have a very comfortable retirement? Tell them their youth is no barrier to achieving. Take them on vacations to developing countries where their imaginations can run wild with ideas for solving the planet’s greatest problems. And teach them to rebel in the right ways.

Brothers Sujay Tyle, 19, and Sheel Tyle, 21, shared their short but impressive life stories with Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick on stage at Techonomy 2012 in Tucson. By the conversation’s end, Kirkpatrick said he wished he’d invited their parents to glean more insight to how they raised such overachievers.

Sujay, who is VP of business development at a social mobile gaming company in Los Angeles, undertook serious clean energy research at age 10, contributed to several biofuel publications out of a DuPont lab where he worked from age 13, and at 15 went to Harvard. Three years into his environmental studies there he was lured away by a 20 under 20 fellowship from billionaire Peter Thiel.

Scopely, where Sujay works now, recently closed an $8.5 million round of funding with investors including former Yahoo CEO founder Terry Semel and the Silicon Valley venture capital firm NEA, where Sujay’s older brother Sheel is an associate.

Sheel says the difference between him and his younger brother is, “I have a college degree.” Sheel graduated from Stanford at 19 and says that his career path was lighted when he realized that through venture capital he could fund innovations that could improve people’s lives. As his career took him around the world, he discovered youth entrepreneurs like a 19-year-old in Kenya who is bottling water and selling it at half the cost of importers, giving access to drinking water to more people than ever. Sheel has invested personally in that company and others.

Together the brothers, who both have poor vision, also started a nonprofit called ReSight while Sujay was still in high school. The organization helps people in India whose impaired vision, and lack of funds to get care for it, condemns them to poverty. Their idea: “Democratize eyecare services by empowering the very people who needed them most to direct their distribution.”

Kirkpatrick spoke aloud what many other fairly accomplished adults in the Techonomy audience were likely thinking: “When I was your age I was getting stoned and the most productive thing I was doing was getting arrested for fighting the Vietnam War.”

Are the Tyle brothers representative of their generation—can we all be a bit more optimistic for the future of the world—or are they aberrations borne of privilege and extremely supportive parents? Kirkpatrick asked.

The brothers said they attribute “every single ounce” of whatever success they’ve had so far to their parents who were born and raised in India, came to the U.S. to go to graduate school, but couldn’t afford to apply to schools that charged an application fee, and taught their sons from a young age to rebel against age barriers to achievement. “America has put age restrictions on what you can do,” said Sujay. “There’s a minimum age to work in a lab, attend university, go into the working world.” The Tyles didn’t let those rules stand in their way.

Sheel said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the promise of his generation. “You have to take youth seriously and enable them,” he said. “There are so many youth in the world. Fifty percent of Libyans are under age 20. In Zimbabwe 56 percent of people are between the age of 15 and 29. India’s fastest growing population is under age 30. It is a scary situation that the world is in, but because there is so much access to education today, you have to enable the youth to be in a position such that they can innovate. You have to create that ecosystem so they can flourish.”

Asked by a Techonomy participant if they shared her observation that youth want to be like them, the brothers said maybe in China where entrepreneurs like bill Gates are the stars. But in the U.S., where celebrities, athletes, and musicians are the heroes, the youth would rather be like Justin Bieber.

Click here for a complete video archive of Techonomy 2012.

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