It all started with an idea—an eco-friendly commuter vehicle that city dwellers would feel cool riding. About three years ago, Benjamin Poss Gulak entered the Uno, an electric motorcycle-unicycle cross, in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and went from zero to overnight superstar.
"It's been a crazy ride these past few years," he sighs.
In 2008, the Uno was Popular Science magazine's top invention of the year, and Gulak was named one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20, appeared on The Tonight Show and received $1.25 million from the CBC television show Dragons' Den, the largest deal in the show's history. Today, at age 21, he has more than a dozen employees within his two companies, BPG Motors and BPG-Werks, which are creating the third Uno prototype and Gulak's newest invention, the all-terrain DTV Shredder.
"Everyone says their project can save the world. But when people put their faith behind me to actually make [the Uno], it's really cool - knowing there's a good chance it can make a difference."
So how does an Oakville high school student create a world-changing invention and still keep afloat in his classes? Gulak knew that if he were to make an impact at his last science fair, he would need a complicated project and the time to devote to it. So he chose to finish high school at Chisholm Academy, a special needs school, in Oakville, Ontario, where he was able to construct his own schedule, work on the Uno and receive one-on-one instruction.
"It was the best decision I could have made. It was great to have a team to support me 100 percent," he says of his teachers, who celebrated with him when he reached his goal of being accepted into MIT for mechanical engineering last year.
"I don't know what I'll be doing in five to 10 years, but I want to be making a difference," he says. "It's not over yet."
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