Meet the Pioneers, Take 4

Pioneer's last tournament featured frontier projects like a $1,000 brain scanner and new city in Africa. This latest cohort features similar shades of ambition. From micro-satellites to software that translates natural language into code, Pioneer continues to be a faction of ambitious outsiders: founders and scientists working on practical and scalable projects that will reshape our planet as we know it.

Meet the winners of the February Pioneer Tournament:

Geffen Avraham (17), Israel
Geffen is making a next-generation CubeSat, a small satellite that can fit in the palm of your hand. His satellite parts will cost 10-100x less than usual, using smartphone technologies. By substantially lowering prices to affordable levels for schools and individuals, Geffen plans to democratize space.

Noteworthy: Geffen designed a CubeSat mission to one of Saturn’s moons, leading him to become the only high-schooler invited to an academic space conference in China. Last year, at 16, he left school to pursue his passion for building satellites at a local laboratory. He’s also currently working on a program to tell where (on Earth) a satellite picture was taken.

Daniel Getman (22), United States
Sugar tastes better than healthy food. This simple fact drives much of the modern obesity epidemic. Daniel is going to change that. He’s modifying food flavor using the miraculin protein -- the thing that causes the magic in miracle berries. His lab-grown miraculin will help dieters make healthier choices and encourage kids to eat more vegetables. Interestingly, this work even has implications for improving the appetite of chemotherapy patients.

Noteworthy: Daniel is studying neuroscience at Duke University and works in a synthetic biology lab. Last year, he worked on getting cells to manufacture Taxol, a chemotherapy drug.

Jake Cooper (23), United States
‌When making a product, you often want to test a feature before unveiling it to your entire user-base. Like an early access group. Jake is building Darklaunch, a platform that makes doing this much easier. Larger companies like Google and Facebook often build an internal platform like Darklaunch, but now smaller startups and individuals will have access to these time-saving tools.

Noteworthy: Jake started out hacking video video games at age 13. As a 14 year-old, he was making over $10,000 trading virtual hats online. He moonlighted as an engineer while finishing up school. He then worked at Wolfram whilst simultaneously traveling through Italy, Holland, and Japan. Jake is now an engineer at Uber, focusing on bikes and scooters.

Tshepo Mohlala (26), South Africa
Tshepo is creating Metacode: an app that converts natural writing into code. This is a bit of a moonshot project: if it works, it’ll reshape the world as we know it. But even if it succeeds in more modest form -- as a variant of super-smart macros -- it’ll enable a far faster gear for the bicycle of the mind that the computer is. Even the best engineers spend hours Googling to find a stub of code. He’s going to decrease the amount of time and effort between knowing a solution and implementing it.

Noteworthy: As a 10-year-old, Tshepo was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's polymathy and started to shape himself in similar multidisciplinary ways. He started by becoming a prolific trader of rare marbles, then expanded to designing custom math theorems, and even built a wearable phone charger. Tshepo has been producing things since the moment adults let him.

Everett Berry (25), United States
Computer vision is changing the world. But it’s complicated to build. Perceive is changing that. Perceive is a kind of game engine (like Unreal or Unity), for computer vision. It’ll enable a whole new generation of retailers, warehouses, and factories by measuring traffic, finding ways to increase efficiency, analyzing customer-employee interactions, and creating security and safety alerts, all while maintaining people’s privacy.

Noteworthy: Everett joined a research group at 19, eager to better understand human behavior in physical places, and received a $1 million grant a few years later to commercialize the product (now Perceive). Between graduating and working full-time on Perceive, Everett and some friends built DongerBoard, a mobile phone keyboard for Dongers (emoticons like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Later, he created DongerBank, a decentralized store of Dongers built on Ethereum.

Francisco Valencia (27), Julio Barriga (22), & Guillermo Herrera-Arcos (23), Mexico
Francisco, Julio, and Guillermo are building the first low-cost medical assistive technology provider in Mexico. Their focus is helping children with cerebral palsy to walk. Prothesia uses 3D scanning and printing to create ankle-foot orthotics at a literal fraction (10%) of what commercial orthotics cost.‌‌

Noteworthy: Despite their age, this trio has been working on improving lives for a long time. Francisco previously was working on a pager that notifies deaf people of ambulances in the vicinity. He’s also a volunteer cyber-security expert for the local police force. Julio created an EMG watch that monitors wearers’ hearts and sends alerts to their loved ones. Guillermo developed the first open-source pediatric robotic exoskeleton. He’s published work on the interplay of brain-computer interfaces and art and spent last year working on computer control algorithms for ankle robotic prostheses at MIT.

Pioneer invests in ambitious people working on interesting projects around the world.

You could be next. Find out when the next tournament opens here: