Alissa Chavez’s journey to becoming an inventor started in middle school. When tasked with the challenge to develop a new idea for her school’s annual science and invention convention, Chavez was on her way to becoming a young inventor, something she had never imagined would happen. During her eighth grade year, after being particularly disturbed by the high occurrences of children dying after being unintentionally left in hot cars, she decided to focus her science fair project on developing a solution. Chavez’s mother owned a daycare center, and Chavez could not bear to imagine any of those children becoming the victim of a hot car tragedy. Her love for those children made this a personal problem for her, one that she wanted to prevent from happening to any child.
After much research, Chavez found inspiration for her idea by studying different alarms and alert systems already present in vehicles. She learned that although there were alarms for open doors and windows and forgotten keys in the engine, there was no alarm to alert parents to a baby left in his/her seat. Chavez’s mom picked up alarm systems from Radio Shack, and Chavz worked on trying to connect them.
Her science fair presentation used a key fob alarm system to notify parents after they had locked their car if the baby was still inside. The product has since evolved to include a mobile app that connects to a pressure sensor placed underneath the car seat to detect the presence of the baby in the seat.
One of the perks of becoming a state semi-finalist of the state fair was an invitation to lunch with the mayor of her city. It was at that meeting that she met a patent attorney who encouraged her to file for a patent and to bring the product to market. Although she didn’t get awarded the patent until three years later when she was 17, she still became the youngest Latina patent holder in the United States.
Her success has given her the opportunity to be featured as a Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year, a TEDx speaker, and an ambassador for Technolochicas, an organization that promotes young Latinas to explore careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
Today, The Baby Hot Seat is ready to hit the market, and Chavez, who continues to be inspired to improve the well-being of young children, has already started working on her next product, Easy Flow – an eco-friendly baby bottle.
On getting support, mentorship, and funding as a teenage founder:
Chavez: One of the struggles of starting my business was that I had a few things working against me. People didn’t take me seriously, because I was so young; they didn’t think I knew what I was talking about. Being female didn’t help either. I still experience some bias, even though I’ve proven, to some extent, that I am capable, and I do know what I am doing.
On choosing a non-STEM college degree:
Chavez: I believe there’s no one path for anyone. People have to shape their lives and shape their career. The more you open yourself up to the different aspects of life, you set yourself up to be ahead of the competition. By limiting yourself to STEM or engineering, or even only communication, you set a limit on what you are capable of. I am fascinated by how people connect, and I didn’t discover that interest until I got to college.
On her greatest inspiration:
Chavez: Aside from my mom, a single mother who worked hard to ensure my sister and I had everything they needed, I am greatly inspired by Walt Disney. He was able to create something meaningful to so many people, and that’s what I hope to do with my products.
On how her childhood shaped her:
Chavez: The most significant gift from my childhood was that it wasn’t perfect. My mom was always very open with the love that she has for my sister and me; it was something we never doubted. She was willing to do anything and everything she could for us. And I think that unconditional love showed me how important I was to her.
Her advice to young girls inspired by her journey:
Chavez: Believe in yourself a thousand percent, because most of the people you meet in the world won’t believe in you. And I think having that faith in yourself will help you go farther than you can imagine. I’ve had to persist through many struggles throughout this process. Don’t let society or other people influence what you can be or what you can become.
Like too many inventors, Alissa Chavez never planned on becoming one. She was inspired by an opportunity and had the wherewithal to notice a fixable problem. Perhaps your smart girl will find herself in a similar situation; if she has an idea, help her run with it!