TU20 Of The Month | #4 | April 2018

Riya Karumanchi

TU20 Member | Founder & CEO, SmartCane

As TU20 continues to grow, we would like to recognize some amazing things happening in our community. Every month, we will be featuring one TU20 who has been working on a cool project, initiative or idea. Our goal is to help the writers and readers, grow, learn and connect with each other so they can continue to do great things.

We’re excited to have you join us for our fourth edition of TU20 Of The Month, and without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Riya and her entrepreneurial journey. Enjoy! 

– Denys


From Zero To A Startup


“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”   – Mahatma Gandhi

The aforementioned quote is one of the principles I hold very close to my heart. It’s what drives me to take action when I see an important problem that needs to be solved, and has been the core of my entrepreneurial journey.

My name is Riya and I am a passionate entrepreneur focused on harnessing technology to better people’s lives, as well as making a positive impact on the world.

I was just a “regular kid” until I was introduced to entrepreneurship at the age of 12 through an amazing organization called ZeroToStartup, a youth entrepreneurial program that taught me the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and engineering.

Thanks to them, my first venture Smart Street Lights was born. My team of Grade 7’s at the time created a prototype featuring motion sensor & air quality data streaming to leverage existing infrastructure and technology to make for a more environmentally friendly community.

Subsequent mentorship came from Ryerson’s DMZ and I was made the youngest member of the Social Venture Zone at Ryerson!

That journey has been an incredible learning experience. I learned the importance of being the omniscient in your field, benefits of partnerships, and how to effectively start a business. This innovative thinking coupled with the problem solving skills I’ve adopted have been the foundation of my future successes.

Let’s fast forward a few months to February of 2017. I was at my friend’s house one day, and had a chance encounter with her grandmother who had visual impairment. Seeing the problems that she faced when travelling pushed me to do more research. What I found was shocking.

To put it into perspective, I want you to imagine living in a world surrounded by an abundance of technological advancements such as quantum computing, the blockchain and artificial intelligence. However, you are held back in such an old era where your only means of communication is a messenger pigeon that delivers handwritten letters to your desired recipients. What seems like an unfathomable situation to you is actually a reality for millions of visually impaired individuals around the world.

The white cane that the visually impaired currently use, still remains a stick that was never updated to take advantage of new technologies. This age-old device limits users to short-distance travel and puts them at severe risk due to limitations in the objects that can be detected.

This reminded me of my driving principle. I couldn’t sit idle and wait for somebody to come up with a solution; I knew I needed to start it.

The school science fair presented an opportunity to come up with a solution. With a partner, I created a prototype of a SmartCane, a modernized orientation and mobility device for the visually impaired and deafblind community. The device leverages technology to increase independence and safety through GPS integration, object detection, location sharing, an emergency button & light and wetness sensors.


My partner and I won at our school fair and advanced to the regional science fair, where we won multiple awards.

Subsequently, I wanted to take the project further, as it was more than just a science fair project for me. I came across an opportunity to attend the Hacking Health Hackathon, and decided to go for it! I pitched my idea and formed a team of eight, consisting of MBA’s, software developers and engineers. Together, we worked for 48 hours and pitched to a panel of industry professionals, later receiving the People’s Choice Award. One of the judges, Paul Brown, happened to offer me an internship at MEDIC, a software development lab focused on eHealth solutions to take it forward!

I was at MEDIC for the summer from 8-4pm everyday working on developing my skills and the SmartCane project. That summer, I presented SmartCane at the I.T World Canada Digital Transformation Conference and the Women in the I.T Channel Recognition Luncheon to top I.T executives!

The summer ended in a flash, and it was time to start high school where I pursued the Accelerated Learning Program at White Oaks. Two months in, I came to know of an extended two-month hackathon called HackABILITY, where the objective was to take the ‘dis’ out of ‘disability’.

I pitched my idea once again and extended my team. Being a teenager, I didn’t expect to win – rather, I was focused on the excellent learning experience. However, our team ended up winning the competition, receiving $1,000 and $36,000 in prizes as well as help from ICUBE at UTM, Microsoft, Inertia Engineering, Arrow Electronics, UrStart, Spacebar and the RIC Centre! It was incredible!

We later pitched at the Pitch2018 competition organized by ICUBE UTM and received another $3,000 to support further development! We are having booths at the OCE Discovery Summit, the UofT Startup Showcase, and are presenting at the 2018 Women in Tech Conference later this month!

Being just a fourteen year old girl, I didn’t expect to get this far. It’s more than I could’ve ever imagined! Throughout this journey, I’ve learned so many valuable things that have shaped where I got to today and where I’ll be in the future.

  • Take risks. If the worst case scenario is the status quo, just go for it. I strongly believe that anyone has the power to have an immense impact on the world, no matter your age. I encourage everyone reading this post to just take a leap. Trust me– the risk is more than worth it.
  • Create solutions to problems that matter. You should never create something and subsequently look for a problem that it solves. When you solve an important problem, success is much more likely.
  • Find opportunities and earn them – they will not be handed to you. Hustle! If you want something, show people that you’ve put in the work, and they’re likely to be impressed and want to help you!
  • Connections are crucial. Seek out different opportunities to network and meet new people. Keep the conversation going and develop a good relationship. You never know what might come out of it!
  • Be passionate and love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, there’s no point in doing it.
  • Set goals and prioritize. Have an end goal and map out how you want to get there – make sure you look at the big picture. Setting goals is essential and will pave the road to success.
  • There is so much opportunity out there. The world is changing at an exponential rate, with new emerging technologies that unfortunately come with new problems. Leverage these technologies to develop your knowledge as they are pivotal in solving some of the world’s most important problems.


I encourage you all to take that leap, and push past your comfort zone. You never know where it might lead you. Remember, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Feel free to check out our website (mysmartcane.ca) or reach out! My email is riya.karumanchi.03@gmail.com 

Thanks for your story Riya! It’s amazing to see the amount of innovation happening in our backyards and how entrepreneurship can bring people together and provide valuable products to people in all circles of life!

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