South Fayette High School seniors Shreya Rathi and Sejal Verma are quickly gaining national attention for their startup company, Maytik. They were interviewed by Forbes Magazine in an article on how teenage entrepreneurs think businesses will transform with the advent of ChatGPT. In March, they will present their first product to entrepreneurs and investors at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Their success story is one of innovation, drive, and determination. But most of all, it is one of inclusivity.
Shreya and Sejal applaud the substantial steps towards inclusivity taken by the beauty industry. But they noticed those companies rarely feature accessible makeup lines and products for individuals with blindness or low vision. They said the only step a handful of companies took was including braille on their packaging.
Even that, they explain, is an ineffective method to promote inclusivity since not all individuals with blindness or low vision read braille.
“Palettes are even more confusing because a person will not be able to tell if they are using the color red or gold,” said Sejal. “They need a universal method, other than braille, to differentiate color.”
With that thought serving as their motivation, Shreya and Sejal began their work last school year as part of the Girls’ STEAM afterschool program to develop the first tech-integrated makeup palette. They met with electrical engineers and business managers to build a palette and a business. But it was their collaboration with Chloe and Darlene, two students at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, that gave them the insight they needed to take Maytik to the next level.
From Chloe and Darlene, the South Fayette seniors learned that haptics such as vibrations are ideal ways to use touch to communicate with the user. Shreya and Sejal decided to use haptic technology to signal the colors on the palette.
The palette works somewhat like a keyboard. As a user presses a shade, a signal is sent to the speaker, announcing the shade’s name. As users go down the palette and the color of the shade intensifies, so too does the intensity of the vibrations from the palette. All of it is made possible by the designs and circuits built by Shreya and Sejal.
After developing the palette, Shreya and Sejal took it to their community partners Chloe and Darlene. Their reaction was something Shreya and Sejal say they will never forget.
“Their faces beaming with excitement and eagerness illustrate the powerful change our product can create in many lives,” Shreya said.
That powerful change has been noticed both regionally and nationally. Shreya and Sejal first participated in Project Invent and won the Explorer Award at Demo Day East. Most recently, they took first place in the TRETC (Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference) Student Pitch Competition. They are global finalists for the South by Southwest EDU Student Startup Competition, and they will showcase their product in front of and receive coaching and feedback from successful entrepreneurs.
The seniors say this experience has taught them valuable technical and soft skills by running all aspects of the start-up.
“One day I’m designing the logo, presentation, and business cards, but the next day I’m calculating the financial projections and writing a business executive summary,” said Sejal.
Their work, however, revolves around the reason they first were interested in STEM – making an impact.
“When you begin to design and create a product for someone with an experience you have never shared, it is imperative that one must listen and think of others’ needs as if they were their own,” Shreya explained.
“It’s astounding how much a simple product I created can brighten someone’s life,” said Sejal. “The smiles on their faces and joyful laughter as they used the palette are something I will never forget. Being the reason for someone’s happiness is gratifying, but being the reason they can experience something they have never been able to is a celebratory cause. For me, there is no bigger joy than making someone smile and feel confident.”